Parents - What kind of training is required to become an interpreter, and for students to use an interpreter?
Educational Interpreter Training and Qualifications
All educational interpreters should have training, certification, and basic qualifications as required by the regulations of their state and by the interpreting industry in general. Interpreter training programs are offered through institutions of higher education nationwide, and a prospective interpreter can now receive a Bachelor of Arts in Educational Interpreting. Although this is not usually a requirement for certification in most states, a few states are implementing this requirement (e.g. Colorado and Michigan).
The Educational Interpreter’s Performance Assessment (EIPA) is a nationally recognized evaluation of interpreter skill. Most state departments of education rely on the interpreter’s EIPA certification as an indication of sign proficiency. Parents are encouraged to ask if their child’s educational interpreter is certified in the mode of communication to be used and, if applicable, what the interpreter’s EIPA score is. Generally, a 3.5 on the EIPA is considered a minimum qualification for an educational interpreter. In lay terms, this score indicates an 80% accuracy rating, or eight out of ten words on average are interpreted correctly. If that’s not good enough, then it becomes an issue for advocacy from the parents and student. It is important to remember that even if the school district says that the state has a minimum requirement, it doesn’t always mean that all of the interpreters meet that level.
Teachers of the Deaf Aren’t Interpreters
It’s also worth noting that many students who are deaf or hard of hearing receive resource services from Teachers of the Deaf (ToD) who may have no sign language qualifications whatsoever. Teachers of the Deaf are generally not required to have interpreter-level sign skills. Ironically, when students with hearing loss are placed in a deaf education resource room for instruction by a ToD, interpreters are not assigned in that setting. Parents should be wary of this scenario and should ask directly about the sign skills of the ToD. It may be necessary to have the appropriate interpreter in a deaf education resource room as an access support if the ToD is not proficient in the communication mode of the child. But don’t assume this will happen. Parents must specify this accommodation on the IEP.
Student Specific Applications
Beyond the required qualifications, educational interpreters must be trained for specific applications based on individual student needs. For example, if a high school student is taking advanced mathematics or computer programming courses, the interpreter must gain specialized knowledge of the vocabulary and concepts that are being taught. Special terms must be conveyed ahead of time to the student so he/she doesn’t lag behind hearing peers while trying to figure out a complicated word or concept in signs that he/she has never seen before. This training is typically accomplished by working directly with the teacher during planning time so it can be pre-taught and then re-taught as necessary (with support from a teacher of the deaf who may be providing resource and remediation assistance). Additionally, preparation and professional development are necessary to maintain competency with interpreting skills relative to all curricula.
Student Preparation to Use Educational Interpreters
Like educational interpreters, most deaf or hard of hearing students learn how this dynamic works. Very few students have any formal preparation, which is a grave oversight considering the daily impact of this relationship. Schools should take this on pro-actively, and provide training to students from a qualified third party (not the interpreter or the teacher of the deaf, but a coordinator of interpreter services/administrator) that addresses:
Age-appropriate mutual expectations including:
- Young children need to know that their interpreter is not their teacher.
- Interpreters need to promote direct communication (even if interpreted) to teachers and peers
- Students need to follow stated policies about requesting interpreter support—not just assume interpreters will be wherever the student is.
Managing the interpreter:
- As the student matures, it’s appropriate for him/her to share expectations of the interpreter as they relate to information priority, ambient sound information, and clarification cues.
- If the interpreter doesn’t show, the student needs to know how to advocate for his/her access in the moment—what’s the policy?
- In some settings the student may prefer one mode of communication, but that could change in other environments/classes. This can be communicated to the interpreter.
- Connecting a deaf or hard of hearing student with an adult who is deaf or hard of hearing is an excellent way to teach interpreter-use via a role model example. There is no substitute for life experience from someone who’s already navigated further along the route.
- Providing trained deaf or hard of hearing mentors who can address interpreter-use issues as well as other lifeskills is the most credible resource available.
What to do when things don’t go well:
- The IEP team should include discussion of a policy for troubleshooting problems that can arise between interpreters and students.
- The deaf or hard of hearing student should have the opportunity to provide input to the policy as it’s being developed, as should the interpreter.
- A disinterested third-party should be designated with authority over the situation; this person must have knowledge in the area of educational interpreting.
- At any and all meetings during which the issue will be discussed, an outside interpreter should be present so the educational interpreter may participate, and so the student may rely on the objectivity of the interpreter.