Advocacy Corner:
Interpreting Services


By Lorna Irwin, Idaho H&V

As a parent, the more you know about interpreting, the better you will be able to advocate for your child and make sure he has the interpreting services he needs. It is also important that you be knowledgeable about the regulations governing interpreters in your chapter. For example, the Idaho Educational Interpreter Act mandates that interpreters working in schools be either certified through a national organization or demonstrate a basic level of competency. The Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) certification is available in ASL, Manually Coded English, or Pidgin Signed English.  Certification is also available for Cued Speech transliterating. Here are some hypothetical (and not-so-hypothetical) questions parents may have about advocating for interpreter services

Q: My daughter uses a cochlear implant, is very oral, but also uses an interpreter. The teacher and principal have noticed that she doesn't look at the interpreter all the time, and can't believe she's really getting enough benefit from interpreting services to justify providing them. How do I convince them that she's really not hearing as well as they assume she is?

A: Students who have good access to sound, and good auditory skills, often use an interpreter as "back up" rather than as their primary means of accessing communication. Under some circumstances (group discussions, school assemblies) they may make more use of an interpreter than they do during a teacher's lecture. An educational audiologist or Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) may be able to provide information to school staff and administration about the limitations of the student's listening equipment, be it cochlear implants or hearing aids. One overlooked strategy, especially for older children, is to ask the student, who may be able to give a very clear explanation of what he needs the interpreter for, and under which conditions. A Functional Listening Evaluation can also provide objective information.

Q: My son had a wonderful interpreter this year, and I want her to continue as his interpreter forever! Can I request this interpreter on his IEP?

A:No, you can't request a specific individual service provider on an IEP. However, you can, with help from your son and his current interpreter, figure out what made this interpreter such a "good fit." Perhaps it is her overall skill level, or skills with ASL or English or the ability to rapidly switch between the two. To some extent, you can request specific skills in the IEP, but there are some drawbacks to doing so. If you are too specific about the interpreter characteristics desired, it may be impossible to find the right person. Staying with the same interpreter year after year, no matter how "perfect," can be detrimental to the student in the long run, limiting his exposure to other individuals' styles and inadvertently fostering dependence.

Q: My daughter's hearing loss is progressive. She knows only a little bit of sign language now, and does not use an interpreter, but is starting to miss things in class. How can we ask the school to hire an interpreter so she can start learning to use one? 

A:  Be specific about your goals in providing interpreter services. Simply watching an interpreter is not an optimal way to learn sign language. You can ask for additional support for your daughter's sign language learning. Perhaps there is a class she can take through the school or community, or it may be possible to arrange for tutoring with a ToD or ASL instructor. Learn sign language and use it at home; find opportunities for her to socialize with other sign language users, including adults who are Deaf or hard of hearing. (For any child who is using sign language, these are ways parents can enhance language development, with some important social benefits, especially if the child has limited contact with other signers in school.)

Q: I have some concerns about how well my son is using interpreting services, and I'd like to have his interpreter at the next IEP meeting. How I can arrange this?  

A:  Not only do you have to right to bring others with knowledge about your child into the meeting, an interpreter is a related service provider under the IDEA, and should be present. (If your child is present as well, a second interpreter should provide interpreting during the meeting.) In many cases, the interpreter will have the important information about what is working or not working for the child's communication access in the classroom, and be able to provide valuable information to the rest of the team. There may also be a need for your son to learn about the role of the interpreter, and how to use one. Often we neglect to specifically teach interpreter use to children, assuming they already know or will learn it "on the job." Bringing in a third party such as an interpreter coordinator or another interpreter is a good idea.

Q:  I visited school the other day, and the teacher had my child and the interpreter working on a lesson together in a corner of the room while she worked with the rest of the class. I thought interpreters weren't supposed to be tutoring?

A: Ideally, the interpreter should be interpreting. Some districts also include the role of tutoring, but not teaching in the interpreter’s day. In practice, there are situations in which the student needs more support, or in which direct instruction works better. How much tutoring the interpreter will do should be spelled out in the IEP, and the interpreter should receive training in tutoring and supervision from the teacher. Other tutoring services, including visits from a ToD, are alternatives. One gray area is sign language vocabulary development. An interpreter and student may need time set aside for previewing upcoming new vocabulary and agreeing on the signs to be used, or even inventing signs for specialized vocabulary.

Q: My son has ADHD in addition to his hearing loss, and can be a handful. The teacher wants the interpreter to monitor and control his behavior in addition to interpreting. Is this appropriate?

A: The role of the interpreter is to interpret, and if he is also the disciplinarian, this can lead to confusion and resentment on the part of the student and other classmates. After all, no other student in the room has an adult watching him full time and jumping on every little misbehavior. Ideally, all discipline should be handled by the teacher, with the interpreter there to make sure the child understands the rules and consequences.

Q: My daughter was just elected prom queen. The school didn't budget for the extra interpreter hours. A football game at night is going to be a communication nightmare for her. What can we do?

A: If your daughter has an interpreter for the classroom, she is entitled to an interpreter for all school-sponsored activities, including field trips, sports, after-school clubs, etc per the IDEA. Her next move may be joining the track team, or getting elected to Student Council, so the school will have to be prepared.

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