Ensuring Equal Access for
Signing Students


By Donna Davis, CI and CT
Co-chair of Educational Interpreter SIG,
Georgia Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
Georgia Hands & Voices

Is it crucial for your child to have access to all the information provided in class?  Does your child access that information through a sign language interpreter?  Is the interpreter qualified to provide access to your child?  The State of Georgia Board of Education defines qualified for educational interpreters in this way:

The required standard credential for all personnel providing educational interpreting for children who are deaf or hard of hearing in LEA’s [Local Education Agency], regardless of job title, shall hold a current Georgia Quality Assurance Screening (G-QAS) rating of Level III or higher in both interpreting and transliterating, as approved and maintained by the Georgia Department of Labor/Vocational Rehabilitation Program (DOL/VR), and/or documentation of advanced interpreting skills and qualifications through current national certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), and/or documentation of advanced interpreting skills and qualifications through current national certification from the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Levels III, IV or V, and/or documentation of advanced interpreting skills and qualifications through a current Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) rating of Level 3.5 or higher. The EIPA score cannot be more than 5 years old.

I hope the following explanation will clarify this Department of Education rule.

The LEA is normally the school district providing educational services to the child at the local school.  Just as the local school must keep records of teacher certifications, the LEA is responsible to maintain current records of credentials of any employees who provide interpreting services.  Therefore, to find out about the qualifications of interpreting staff, contact your local school district, specifically the department responsible for hiring Deaf and Hard of Hearing educational staff.

It is important to know that access to classroom content is affected by the quality of the interpretation.  In addition, all children learn language from the people around them.  Frequently, children are exposed to a very small number of people who can sign, and sign fluently, in their daily life.  Moment by moment, the interpreter connects your child to not only the curriculum, but also valuable social and incidental learning that occurs during the school day.  Shouldn’t the most qualified person be the one to serve as this critical link for your child?

When faced with the arrival of a student that requires interpreting services, many districts rush to hire a warm body to fill the position, thinking that anyone who knows some sign language can meet this need.  There are numerous accounts of systems hiring “interpreters” whose training was limited to one or two sign language classes.  Staff members who are not qualified can be paid as paraprofessionals, saving the system a great deal of money.  Because the person hired does not have the necessary skills, the staff member under these circumstances may “help” the child with their work, rather than interpret.  Even parents may think this is best because the person is “helping the Deaf child.”  Of course, the result is devastating to the development of the child, causing increasing dependence and delay in language acquisition as the years go by.   

Current data (which are flawed to some extent) show 262 educational interpreters working in Georgia schools.  Of those reported, 119 (approximately 45.4%) hold the necessary credentials.  What can change this dismal percentage?  These numbers will only improve with the advocacy efforts of concerned parents.

You have the right to file a complaint if the personnel providing services do not hold and maintain the necessary credentials.

Below is some explanation of the credentials listed in the Georgia rule:

Georgia Quality Assurance Screening Level III or higher in interpreting and transliterating:  This test is no longer given and by fall 2011, all credentials with this rating will be expired and invalid. Employees currently working under this credential need to successfully pass one of the alternate exams by the end of the year. 

National certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID):  Interpreters with current certification must participate in documented professional development.  Different tests were available during various time periods; each of them remains valid ONLY if properly maintained.  As evidence, the interpreter has a blue card with a RID member number and the current date.  You will see one or more of the following:  NIC (National Interpreter Certification), CI and/or CT (Certificate of Interpretation and Certificate of Transliteration), IC and TC (Interpreter Certificate and Transliteration Certificate), or CSC (Comprehensive Skills Certificate).

National certification through the National Association of the Deaf:  This testing instrument, while no longer offered, is valid with documented participation in professional development through RID.  The qualified interpreter will possess the blue RID card with the credential NAD III, NAD IV, or NAD V.

Lastly, the EIPA (Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment):  This is a rating system that is targeted specifically for educational interpreters.  Those having met the requirement will have paperwork showing a test score of 3.5 or higher.  If the score is 4.0 or higher and the interpreter has passed the written portion of the EIPA, the interpreter will have an RID blue card that says ED:  K-12.  Please see the following link for a detailed explanation of what you can expect from an interpreter with a score at a particular level:  http://www.classroominterpreting.org/eipa/performance/rating.asp

At the national level, the profession of sign language interpreting is far from its fledgling stages.  Since the inception of The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf in 1964, great strides have been made to upgrade services offered to persons who rely on interpreting services. Most recently, beginning in January 2009, hearing candidates for certification must have a minimum of an associate’s degree to take an RID performance exam. The Americans with Disabilities Act has provided the legal means to ensure that qualified interpreters are available to Deaf consumers in the community such as hospitals, judicial proceedings and job settings. Sadly, while children are the most defenseless members of society, educational systems lag far behind these community efforts.

Parents investigating requirements for educational interpreters in their area of the country will find that each state individually addresses or remains silent on the matter.  Parents may find one, more, or none of the following:  state legislation, department of education regulation, and/or state licensure for interpreters. While licensure appears to be a great solution, a simple web search shows that in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, interpreters in educational settings are exempt from state licensure requirements for sign language interpreters. If the State Department of Education maintains charge over defining qualifications for educational interpreters in your state, then the Department of Education is responsible to monitor and provide a means to deal with systems that are out of compliance.

Clearly, larger grassroots advocacy efforts are needed to ensure that Deaf and hard of hearing students have access to quality interpreting services in their delicate and formative years. Thankfully, regardless of what is happening in your area, you have recourse as a parent.  Solutions begin with asking questions, gathering information, and beginning the process of communication. You can learn about the requirements for your area and find out about complaint procedures. Ultimately, you have the best avenue of advocacy available to you through your right to have consistent input in the development and monitoring of your child’s progress through the IEP.

For more information:

A website dedicated entirely to the practice of classroom interpreting:

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf explanation of certifications:

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