Self-Advocacy and Use of an
Educational Interpreter

Heather Fultz, Idaho Educational Interpreter

To provide a deaf child with an education in a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), it is important that they understand the roles and responsibilities for themselves, their teachers, and the educational interpreter. Not only should the child be aware of their own needs and how to get them met, but all parties must have an understanding regarding the best way for the relationships to develop. The primary goal is to continually encourage the child and other adults to reduce their reliance on the interpreter and to empower themselves. This education must be ongoing in order to be most effective.

As a child enters school and transitions from upper elementary to middle school, and then to high school, it benefits everyone if a yearly in-service is provided. Often there are new staff members who have never used an interpreter, much less met a deaf person. One example of a recent misunderstanding occurred when a new teacher asked a deaf student to remove a hearing aid. The teacher stated that they didn't allow students to "listen to music during class." If this teacher had been provided with an inservice this embarrassing and awkward moment may have been prevented.

When a child gets older, and subjects become more challenging, students are often required to take notes. It is very beneficial if a deaf student learns to either request a copy of the teacher's notes or request a notetaker. This way the deaf student can attend to the interpreter as the teacher is explaining the notes. It is virtually impossible for a deaf student to take detailed notes and watch the interpreter simultaneously. If parents are concerned that the student won't learn to take their own notes, students can be taught how to add their own brief notes to a copy they have received from the teacher.

Other essential skills every student should develop include the confidence to clarify with their instructor when they don't understand, request captioned media, raise their hand to be included in class discussion, and request that the person speaking to them talk directly to them, not to the interpreter (i.e., don't say, "Tell him/her."). This can be taught on an ongoing basis by role playing with both deaf and hearing students.

Parents should be vigilant to see that the above issues are being addressed. Unknowledgeable school staff and untrained interpreters are notorious for ignoring these practices in their desire to "help the little deaf child." In the end, the student suffers. He or she is unable to self advocate and becomes totally reliant on the system.

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