Sign Language Interpreters Are Important, But Why Is It Difficult To Find One?

Communication is important for everyone, as it helps people exchange information and be able to send messages across. Language plays an important role as a method that we use to articulate our thoughts and ideas. Typically people would use their voices to communicate, which seems normal for everyone. But, what happens when you rely on another method to communicate, such as using sign language?

This is the case for people in the Deaf community, as a number of them rely on American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a language with its own grammar, vocabulary, and structure. The Deaf community uses ASL for communication among themselves and with loved ones. Unfortunately, they have faced communication barriers outside of their homes, as many people only speak English and have little to no knowledge of ASL. They sometimes have to rely on lip reading or written notes to communicate, but not all deaf people can lip read. Sign language interpreters are people who help bridge the divide between the Deaf community and many others. They are trained to interpret what a person is saying in English to ASL. You may have seen interpreters on TV during news broadcasts, or may have had a Deaf friend who had an interpreter in class. Sign language interpreters are important but there is a large problem: it is getting increasingly difficult for Deaf people to be able to access an interpreter. Why is it so difficult to find one?

One of the challenges that many Deaf people face is being able to communicate with doctors and nurses during appointments or emergencies. Doctors and nurses are not trained in ASL. One Deaf man was brought to the hospital because of chest pain. He requested the hospital provide an ASL interpreter once he arrived at the emergency room. The hospital instead brought a video screen that was connected to a video interpreting service. The nurses weren’t able to connect to the service so they turned to written notes in English. The patient primarily communicated in ASL, which is different from English even though it shares words with language. What the man experienced was something that many Deaf patients have experienced before. On-site interpreters are expensive, so hospitals will rely on video conference services with remote interpreters. There are flaws to the system, though, as many Deaf patients are at disadvantage. One is not being able to rely on a good internet connection. Even though technology is constantly improving, there are many potential hiccups. If the internet connection is not strong enough, the chances of being able to get the remote interpreter on screen is very low, which brings a risk of losing effective communication between the medical personnel and Deaf patient. Another problem is dialect differences in ASL. If the patient was in one state and the interpreter was calling from another state, there could be dialect differences. That means a sign that is used for a word may be different for the interpreter compared to the Deaf patient. This could bring confusion along with possible miscommunication.

Sign language interpreters are not only important for the medical setting, but also the legal setting. Sometimes Deaf people will have to appear in court, but they are more likely to have difficulty understanding what is going on due to the lack of an interpreter. They may be asked questions in English which may be difficult for them to understand clearly even if they can lip read. Lip reading is a skill that some Deaf people have, but it is not always effective. Interpreters are also needed in schools where Deaf students might be mainstreamed into schools with their hearing peers.

Deaf students that are fluent in ASL will need interpreters to help them translate what their teachers instruct. Deaf students are at a greater disadvantage than their hearing peers if they don’t have access to an interpreter. The interpreter helps bridge the communication problems for Deaf students, giving them the information they will need to know through a method they are comfortable with. The demand for interpreters has increased, but there is a low number of qualified interpreters across the nation, which presents a large problem.

Like any other language, ASL and English are languages that people need to be fluent in if they want to be interpreters. Most interpreting programs will only offer two years, but that is not enough in today’s environment. There needs to be improvement where the programs will offer courses that cover areas that are important in today’s world and expand the horizons for students. Each program has a different requirement to enter and complete the program. There should be a national curriculum that can be used for educating future interpreters. If there are national curriculums for many common degree programs, why not create one for interpreting programs? The programs should also offer specialization that offers coursework on educational interpreting, medical interpreting, video relay interpreting and other focused areas. This is important as interpreters are needed for different situations, but the interpreter may not know the proper vocabulary that is needed for the situation. Fields such as medicine and law have jargon that needs to be explained and interpreted for the Deaf client. If the interpreter doesn’t know the sign, the Deaf person will be lost and will have difficulty being able to communicate his/her needs. There should be ways for students to have meaningful experiences in the Deaf community. This will allow them to have better interactions with Deaf people, which will help them with future jobs. There needs to be more Deaf faculty and mentors to help shape the interpreter program, and a screening and testing system that determines the fluency and capability of students to determine whether they are qualified or not. This will bring a clearer understanding of what is required in order to be qualified as an interpreter, help set a standard, and give interpreters a better experience.

Sign language interpreters are important because they help take away a communication barrier that Deaf people face everyday. Deaf people are human beings so they deserve to be treated with respect and not seen as second class citizens. Not everyone in the Deaf community is able to communicate in English or lip-read easily, which presses the need for interpreters when they are going about in their everyday lives. Even though technology has started to show some assistance to help with this concern, it is not reliable as there is the problem of having a good connection and being able to set up the equipment. Deaf people dread going to doctor’s appointments or other places where they need an interpreter because they know that they are less likely to be able to get an interpreter to assist them. There needs to be more accessible options for Deaf people. This is an issue that deserves more attention, because Deaf people are human beings and deserve the same access as hearing people.

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