Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged

Gina Oliva

I am sure that most readers are well aware, that the entire “system” for educating hard of hearing and deaf children in mainstream settings is generally a mess, the kids are suffering, and no one person or entity is really in control.  Included in this “system” is the  entire state of affairs with regards to sign language interpreters in K-12 classrooms, across the United States as well as elsewhere around the globe. Let’s call it the “illusion of inclusion” as Debra Russell has so aptly put it.

Alone in the Mainstream

My K-12 experiences, along with the things I learned in my 37-year long career at Gallaudet and during my 46-year long relationship with my “deaf” (e.g. “hearing on the forehead”) father came together to prompt me to write “Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School” (Gallaudet University Press, 2004).  I am now working on a second volume of that book with Linda Lytle, from Gallaudet’s Department of Counseling, which will focus on the experiences of younger adults (currently age 18 – 35) as they look back on their mainstream years.   Naturally, this book will include comments and probably whole chapters about Educational Interpreting and the role sign language interpreters play in the lives of deaf children.

Interpreter on a Megaphone

This sense of the need for a second edition had been with me for a while when I found in my inbox the most recent of many letters received. The one quoted below was a serious gem that convicted me of the need for an entire new volume rather than simply a second edition.  It was a megaphone so to speak of the dire straits America’s (and the world’s) hard of hearing and deaf children are finding themselves in.  It is used with permission, and serves as the basis for this post.

Dear Gina,

      Hello!  My name is ________________ and I am a Sign Language Interpreter.  I do some freelance work but mainly I have been an Educational Interpreter in ________________ for eight years.  I attended your book presentation several years ago and am finally getting around to reading your book “Alone in the Mainstream.”    So far I am only on Chapter 6 but am already greatly impacted by what I have read.  I have worked with all ages from Kindergarten up to high school.  In all those settings with all different students I have used ASL, PSE, and/or Cued Speech.  Some of the kids I have worked with have had mild hearing losses, some profound.  These children come from hearing families who sign, hearing families who cue, hearing families who do neither, and a couple of families where the parents are deaf themselves.  One thing remains the same with each child I have worked with.  I feel inadequate. 

      Even though I am a highly skilled interpreter, I wonder if the mainstream setting is ever a social success, even with an interpreter, and everyday that I see the kids struggling I feel just awful.  It is very hard to watch day in and day out. 

      True, I have witnessed a few hard of hearing students who can speak clearly for themselves and are able to follow conversations quite successfully using their hearing alone.  I have seen them flourish, feel included, and have high self-esteem.  What is much more common however, and is so heartbreaking, is witnessing my students having the “dinner table syndrome” (as you put it), where they fake interest in some task to avoid looking lost.  I see a lot of “superficial participation” where onlookers think the d/hoh student is “just fine” (as you also put it) but really they need to look deeper.  My point is, this stuff still happens EVEN WITH AN INTERPRETER PRESENT! 

      In fact, what really kills me is how awkward it is when I am in a “social situation”– it’s just a no win kind of thing.  For example, I am sure you realize that kids will alter their talk if there is an adult around.  So it’s really not “normal kid talk” when I am around.  And if some brave kid attempts to “talk normal” when I am there (such as swearing or saying something they would never say in front of another adult), then the rest of the kids are uncomfortably giggling.  Then, I, the interpreter and the deaf kid by association is in the spotlight – and it is just so ICKY for all involved — it is not authentic at all!  It is tainted and altered by the mere presence of the interpreter.

      More often than not, the Deaf student only wants to chat WITH the interpreter; not with their peers THROUGH the interpreter.  For years I’ve heard educational interpreters talk about trying to encourage their students to ask the other kids in class what their weekend plans are, or what good movies they’ve seen lately, but then the D/hoh student either says “no that’s fine” and looks crushed as if no one wants to be their friend, not even the interpreter OR they go and ask their classmates a few engaging questions, but the conversation quickly fizzles and nothing comes of it.  I think an entire book could be written on the subject of Interpreter/deaf student relationships and how complicated it can get.

      It never fails that every year I work in education, I say to myself “I can no longer support this.  I need to quit and do only freelance and Sorenson work.”  I especially feel this way after reading your book, but then I remember that a lot of participants [for that book] did not have the “luxury” of an interpreter.  Another voice inside me says, “_____, you need to stay working in the schools. Parents will always mainstream their kids, so it may as well be someone skilled and competent working with them. ”

      That voice always wins out, and I stay. 

      But today I am not satisfied.  I want to do something about this.  I think people will read your book and then pause and be reflective, but then resume life thinking “nowadays schools provide more [and] better services than ever before.”  Well, I firmly believe MORE AND BETTER IS NOT ENOUGH!  Right, your subjects didn’t have interpreters (except one I think) and today many or most do have interpreters.  We need to push forward to ensure a better quality of life for tomorrow’s d/hoh students.   We need to ask the right questions, find the right people to share their stories, and make suggestions for making things better.

Heartbroken and Gagged

And so, this is from a “heartbroken and gagged” educational interpreter.  I am sure most of you readers have heard similar or perhaps even felt “heartbroken and gagged” yourself.  Heartbroken from watching the kids you are “working for” miss this, miss that, day in and day out.  Gagged because the dysfunctional system declares you are not to say anything about this to anyone.  Perhaps the latter is an exaggeration — perhaps you can talk to a teacher or some other school personnel.   Brenda Schick’s work on professional conduct guidelines state that as “related service providers” interpreters DO have a responsibility to be more than just a conduit of talking.

The Road Ahead

How do we get the school districts to accept this, to recognize the great value of the interpreter’s observations, and take these into serious consideration?  And perhaps more importantly, how can Educational Interpreters provide not just in-school support to their individual student(s), but how can they “report to the authorities” meaning the professionals who are concerned nationally and globally about the education of deaf and hard of hearing children.  It may take a village to educate a child but the villages ought to share information with other villages.

First, please find a way to get your collective observations into print, the media, to the Deaf Education arena, to parents, and to Deaf Professionals who are working to impact the “system.”  Secondly, think about the Devil’s Bargain, as suggested by Dennis Cokely, and consider giving back through local level advocacy work – in the EHDI system and in local or regional weekend/summer programs that bring your students together so that their social network can include others who face the same issues.

Should Interpreters Address Inadequacy and Neutrality?

Why is it that sign language interpreters working in mainstream settings feel inadequate?  Is it the expectation that h/she be “invisible” as discussed by Anna Witter-Merithew in, Sign Language Interpreters: Are Acts of Omission a Failure of Duty?  Is this “invisibility” what h/she was taught in the ITP attended?  Related might be a feeling that she is expected to be “neutral”?  I wonder how much of this feeling of inadequacy and or “neutrality” is from some academic knowledge or industry bias and how much is just plain old being a human being and not liking what they see?

If Educational Interpreters could come together to discuss how as a profession they might address this and related issues in K-12 settings, it would do much to boost the confidence and effectiveness of those working in the isolation of educational settings.  The collective voice of Educational Interpreters could hold much promise for alleviating the suffering of the children for whom we are concerned. The interpreter who wrote to me has become a colleague and we have exchanged many emails.  It is obvious that she is trying her best in her own setting, but there seems to be a dearth of support for taking these concerns and the solutions to a higher level.  What should that higher level be and who can lead this effort?

Should Interpreters Address the “Diffusion of Responsibility?”

In the above letter, the writer refers to the concept of “dinner table syndrome,” which I refer to in my book, where the hard of hearing or deaf student fakes interest in some task to avoid looking lost. This was my life day in and day out in my K-12 years and several of the 60 adults who wrote essays for Alone in the Mainstream extended this concept to another phenomenon I dubbed the “everything is fine” syndrome.   Together these two “syndromes” constitute the concept of “incidental learning,” which is the topic of a yet-to-be-published but complete dissertation by a fellow “AITM survivor,” Mindy Hopper.  In our day, the fact of this missing information was in itself invisible to all except the student.  But now, in the modern classroom, the student’s interpreter is a daily witness.  Not only does the classroom interpreter know the student is missing stuff, h/she knows what the student is missing.  This is so much more than any hearing parent of a deaf child has known unless she also spent all day in her child’s classroom.  Talk about power.

As potential partners with teachers and parents, I wonder if the sign language interpreters working in K-12 settings should have as part of their job description to keep a log of conversations or information that they suspect their “charges” (clients) missed. Wouldn’t this help the teacher and the parents determine if their student/child is missing so much as to warrant some kind of action?  Clearly, this would involve taking to heart Witter-Merithew’s lesson in bystander mentality and the “diffusion of responsibility”.   I wonder if these concepts can find their way into interpreter training programs and standards of practice, and how such could come about?

Advocate and Report

That children in general, especially when they reach adolescence, want and need space to discuss their lives without the presence of adults, is a developmental fact. That an interpreter’s presence in K-12 social environments works against the deaf child is an example of how you just can’t change city hall.  The hard of hearing or deaf child has obviously learned from experience that the “quickly fizzling and nothing comes of it” from conversations with their peers is what “always happens” and they have decided they don’t want to experience that again.   But, now, here is an adult (the sign language interpreter) actually witnessing and understanding what it might feel like.  Now the sign language interpreter is also witnessing the stilted social interactions of their deaf or hard of hearing “charge”. How can the interpreter not be expected to be an advocate/reporter?

In my educated and experienced opinion, the collective voice of Educational Interpreters is our only hope that the issues addressed herein could be remedied.  We, the Deaf Adults who are concerned for these children, need your involvement.  Two areas where you can help, beyond your in-school advocacy and the already suggested work to bring your collective voice to the forefront in Deaf Education, are in the EHDI arena (early hearing detection and intervention) and in the establishment/management of weekend and summer programs that bring the solitaires together.

Elevate Your Voice

Perhaps you are the heartbroken and feeling like you are under a gag rule, smart and articulate, educational interpreter in the Heartland.  Or you know someone who is.  If yes, what are your thoughts on this?  What do you think would bring about change?  What would lead to the day that your insights, observations, and suggestions as sign language interpreters would be taken more seriously?  What would elevate the status of interpreters working in educational settings? Your ideas might be simple, complex, seemingly impossible, step-by-step (we like step-by-step), or philosophical.  Bring ‘em on.



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About the Author

Gina Oliva grew up as the only hard of hearing child in all of her K-12 classrooms in the public schools of Greenwich, Connecticut. She received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Washington College, her master’s in counseling from Gallaudet University, and her doctorate in Recreation and Leisure Studies from the University of Maryland. Her first language is English, she has used a hearing aid since age 5, and began learning American Sign Language as a young adult at Gallaudet, where she enjoyed a 37 year career. Dr. Oliva published her first book, Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School in 2004. In 2014 she published a sequel (with co-author Linda Risser Lytle), Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Schoolchildren.

90 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Gerdinand Wagenaar says:

    In my country, the Netherlands, I believe K-12 interpreting is (still?) relatively rare.

    I do hope that policymakers (and interpreters; I know of many newby interpreters here who argue that interpreting in K-12-settings requires team interpreting, so that new interpreters can learn from more experienced colleagues, grr) will finally listen to Deaf consumers and their organisations, and that funding can be shifted back from interpreting back to sign language/deaf schools.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Good morning!
      Are interpreters not used in the Netherlands because so many kids are implanted or??
      As for team interpreting in the mainstream, now that’s a DREAM!!!!! And probably would go a long way to helping things.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • karen says:

      Hi Gina!
      WOW! What an eyeopener! I am a HOH mom of a child with PDD-NOS who is also HOH. What drives me nuts is the attitude that if a Deaf/HOH speaks clearly, they can function fully as a hearing person. I was envious of children who were “lucky” enough to have interpeters in class (I was the first and to my knowledge, ONLY HOH child to attend my private school, with no interpeter, notetakers accomodations, etc. Talk about “sink or swim”!)Now I know better. My child attend a private school for the Deaf for a year, after years of bouncing around public school with just an FM device for help. She doesn’t wear aids because of her PDD-NOS sensory issues. The shcool closed last year due to the declining number of students, directly related to the number of CI chidlren being forced to mainstream. She is now attending a collaborate for chidlren with high-functioning ASD with no attempts to include her in Deaf culture at all. Even her wraparound director (hearing) doesn’t see the need for my child to keep up her ASL or keep in touch with her Deaf peers, because she’s (everybody say/sign this with me!) “not Deaf enough”! Oh, the new PC way of saying this is “she’s too verbal”!?!!! In the meantime, she’s having meltdowns bcause her mommy can’t hear her anymore and Mommy never learned ASL as a child, and Grandma can’t communicate with her grandchild either because Grandma is profoundly late-Deafened and reads lips , which is not a good skill to practice on someone who can’t tolerate eyegaze…
      My mother is struggling everyday because someone decided she wasn’t “deaf enough”. I’m struggling because I’m not “deaf enough”. Someday, the past and the present will have an impact on the future, my child, because she’s not “deaf enough” but some day she will be…
      By then, it will be too late. God help her. No one is.

  2. Laura Lippincott says:

    The problems discussed in this article are also rampantly prevalent in the Community College setting. I have interpreted in college settings for the past thirty years and can say unequivocally they are largely unsuccessful for deaf persons; especially the English classes. So much education happens as the deaf person is looking down at their paper. Teachers do not know how to work with visual people and visual language. No one asks, “How can I change my lesson plan to meet their needs as well”. Deaf students are not tested to see if they have learning disablilties. I often feel like a prostitute, working to earn money, but never seeing the fruition of a great meaningful education for deaf people.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      And did you know that many (I think almost 1/3, at least from my fairly reliable sources) of incoming Gallaudet students are transfers??? They are so used to being in “inclusive settings (ahem) that they select a hearing college (or to be close to home, save money, etc) but now they are old enough to decide for themselves they are sick of that lifestyle (education-wise) and transfer to Gallaudet. I suppose an equal number would go to NTID/RIT but I don’t have a source up there (smiles).
      Thanks for your comment!!!

      And P. S. Gee sorry you feel like a prostitute…that’s a powerful statement!!


      • Megan says:

        It’s been a while since I attended RIT but NTID does get a good number of transfer students. Not sure if NTID/RIT gets the same # of transfers as Gallaudet since NTID/RIT already attracts the oral/mainstream students already with their cross-registration program.

      • HEATHER says:

        Hi Gina. We have two deaf students at our school with translators. My problem, is, that the one translators is the Mom of the student she is translating for. She is not well respected by the students because she gets involved in “stuff” that doesn’t concern her. She has been making decisions that the teacher should be making, including kicking other students out of class. She is not a neutral party and seems to be only interested in hers son’s success. She is not certified in any way and I would prefer to have someone more neutral doing her job. My family has gone out of our way to invite her son to our home on a weekly basis in order to give the two of them space from one another but in my eyes she has turned in to the class bully. Any suggestions?

        • KBS says:

          Heather, I don’t know where you live, but you need to convince your district to come up with a job description for sign language interpreters, including educational and certification requirements. If you can get backing from your state Association of the Deaf and/or NAD and/or RID, that would help. This is doing WAAAAAAAAY too much damage to this child, not to mention the other children in the classroom.

    • KC says:

      I, too, interpret mostly in the community college setting and have worked with several Deaf/HOH students where it doesn’t work for them. It saddens me that these students that were mainstreamed K-12 with or without an interpreter were basically “pushed” through the system so as not to be a burden on the school system. Teachers tended to “look the other way” because they felt sorry for the student or gave them passing grades with the thinking they were “helping”. This only ends up hurting them in the long run such as when they get to college and instructors are not as forgiving. With every student I have worked with, English is the biggest struggle for them and unfortunately, without proper English skills/grammar, they can’t get to the next level. I wouldn’t necessarily say a student has a learning disability because they can’t grasp English in college. I usually explain it this way to people. Imagine you are trying to take a written test in a language you only know/understand minimally. How well do you think you’d do? You may be a genius in your own language but would you want to be labeled as having a learning disability because you don’t fully understand the other language? It has to happen at the very beginning of schooling.

  3. Thomas Green says:

    I have experienced both deaf school and mainstreamed in public school. One thing that I really am currently discussing and encouraging people to do a paradigm shift from interpreters to language models for deaf students. It bothers me that interpreters are interpreting when the deaf child has no or little language acquisition when they start kindergarten. The deaf student’s exposure to language is often through an interpreter. If the interpreter is not qualified to be “educating” a child on language, that presents a challenge for the deaf child to learn language. It is the idea of hiring a teacher who speaks different language and has little English language skills and have that teacher teach English to students, would parents allow that? Why do we allow deaf children be placed in that environment. I am not saying that all interpreters are not qualified, there are many qualified interpreters, but there are also not qualified individuals interpreting in educational settings.

    Just food for thought!

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Hi Tom!

      If you read up on Educational Interpreting, especially Brenda Schick’s work, you will learn that the quality in general is not what the students need or deserve. And this is not to lambast the individuals who are doing the interpreting. This is to say that the “system” that sorely needs changing ALLOWS this to happen.


    • Cassandra says:

      Thank you Thomas!

      It is exactly this lack of language exposure, especially from birth to Kindergarten, that is moving me to create a program in ASL for those ages (well several programs). If a deaf child is born to parents not fluent in ASL, hearing or deaf, they cannot pass on language to their child. It is especially important for deaf children to have ways to learn language if there is not a visual language used at home.

    • Laura Cozart says:

      I have been an educational interpreter now for almost 10 years. The only way I feel that this can be addressed would be if the schools hired a deaf para/language model for the child and the interpreter really interpreted for them. This would have a two fold benefit as the deaf child would see a successful deaf adult role model and that deaf para could monitor if the interpreter is skilled enough to be an educational interpreter or not (at least be able to bring into question to those in authority what concerns they had with the interpreter’s skill levels). This is the only way that I see mainstreaming as a somewhat viable solution for deaf students.

  4. Shelly Hansen says:

    Hi Gina!
    Thanks for posting…
    I am a freelancer who started as an ED terp for 3 years and now does occasional substitute ED terping in K – post secondary.
    The most successful program I have seen is a regional program where the students have the opportunity to have a quasi-deaf school experience due to the large peer group with multiple signing staff and a pool of interpreters. Then students are able to form a signing peer set as well as branch out more easily into the mainstream peer sets.
    I firmly believe that any school that has a D/HH mainstreamed kid should be required to provide ASL/signing classes for the students and staff (lunch time? after school?) something to encourage and increase direct language interactions on a daily basis.
    Other ideas: set up a “study session” available as an extra hour each day for the student to get one-on-one support with content and homework with qualified staff.
    After a full day or even half day at a mainstream school setting, I usually go home depressed. I feel the kids are getting a second, third or fourth rate education, that material isn’t being taught in a visually accessible manner, that ASLEnglish skills need to be directly taught, too much content is hearing based. It makes me mad.
    Something I struggle with is the sensation that interpreting as an ED terp makes my skills slide down into…lame land. I need the external stimulation of ASL users to keep my own skills developing and satisfying day in and day out.

    One example of exasperation: the class is reading a book aloud. The student has such limited language that the role of the interpreter is to move the paper down the page of print so s/he can follow along without comprehension. I tried to pop in a few explanations (against the direction of the teacher) so that there was some of the story getting thru. This was a middle school setting. Participating in that type of “education” feels like partaking in a type of crime against the brain and soul of a human being.

    Time to go freelance…

    • Mom says:

      I like the idea of offering ASL to students and staff as well!!

    • PAInterpreter says:

      You posted an interesting example. Does the student’s academic team, those involved in his IEP, know that the content is beyond him/her due to the currently language proficiency that he/she has at this moment?

      –interpreting for about 17years in the educational setting and doing well.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Thanks for sharing this article Shelly…..not only does it demonstrate possibly one of the worst cases (but probably not wholly uncommon) but the reporter’s obviously lack of knowledge shows throughout…


      “[Judge]Wacker ordered the district to contract with two specialists — who also testified in the case — to devise and implement a learning plan for Garcia to get him caught up.”

      Another wow. No way is this young man gonna get “caught up.” What a tragedy and I am so glad the mother had the wherewithall and support to bring this to court. I have long felt that need a big class action suit to bring the whole system to it’s knees. Where is John Grisham when we need him? (smiles)….but seriously!!!!

      I like your metaphors too…thanks for sharing!!!

  5. Jennifer Harper says:

    What an in-depth and interesting study on the state of the educational system with regard to d/hoh students! I agree that there definitely needs to be much change in the system and the person who would generally know the most on the topic, aside from the teacher, would be the interpreter. That brings into question the qualifications of the interpreter, of course. Yet, if the interpreter is, like you, experienced and qualified, their voice can play a very powerful role in the progress toward improving education in mainstream settings. The interpreter is able to see things from both perspectives and is usually the only one who knows whether or not the d/hoh student is actually comprehending the material.

    What can be done to improve the interactions in the classroom toward improved learning? The interpreter holds a wealth of information, however our code of conduct tells us not to interject any personal feelings or observations. Yet, these are the very things that the educational system needs to know about.

    New RID educational requirements for certification eligibility provides a wonderful opportunity for interpreters to gain additional knowledge in their field. The educational system needs to recognize this additional training and expand the interpreter’s role to allow for this additional knowledge to be utilized. Some interpreters may even have degrees equivalent or even greater than those of the teacher. The system needs to formally create a mechanism where interpreters can freely voice their thoughts, observations and ideas in a way that can be utilized to improve the educational system. These ideas then need to be analyzed and new practices, processes and/or procedures should be implemented to create an environment that recognizes the needs of d/hoh students.

    Thanks for reading…

  6. Gina Oliva says:


    I met with a key RID person last week. We talked about where we might go with this – to be continued. Meanwhile thank you for your ideas — it seems that the ITPs – the training that goes into the newly-being-trained interpreters is a big piece of the puzzle. Enforcing the interpreters role as a “related service provider” is another along with educating statelevel people as to their real legal and moral responsibilities so that it can trickle down to the actual schools, principals, teachers.

    And to everyone, I welcome your “stories” of what you actually witnessed in the classroom, for my forthcoming book and another possible publication. Of course no names will be given and any details you wish obscured will be so. You can send these to me personally at

    Thanks everyone, for reading!!!

    • Donna Davis says:

      I will try to send you some stories, Gina. Thank you for writing this!

      While I appreciate the many truths in this article, I want to add another perspective to the discussion.

      What I have observed is that students transfering from all Deaf schools into mainstream environments tend to have grossly substandard academic abilities, as well as a general lack of exposure to a wide variety of concepts. Even though I know you never said this, I am concerned that people may read your article and conclude that Deaf students should not be mainstreamed.

      The research that was done to bring about inclusion in this country clearly shows that isolated poplulations do not receive equal opportunities to learn. It is human nature, unfortunately, for teachers who are individualizing educational plans and then isolating those same students, being held to know concrete measurable standard, to lower expectations. If you were to randomly visit (without notice) differing environments, you would clearly see this.

      Also, these plans tend to be written such that students may not move on to the next concept until they reach the goals that are outlined in the plan. We all know that many students do not understand every concept from every class, but they still move on to more complex concepts and acheive successes. In self contained environments, individualized education (each child working on their own goals) is rarely acheivable. My experience has taught me that only by exposing children to the widest array of ideas, thoughts and human experiences can they be equipped to be productive citizens.

      Social isolation is a problem; Unqualified interpreters are a problem; Isolation is a problem; Academic standards are a problem.

      There doesn’t seem to be a utopia. I wish we could take the best of both environments and combine them.

      I once worked in a system where students went in the mornings to a hearing high school and in the afternoons back to the Deaf school. Their fluency, socialization, and academic needs were definitely met. I think that is the best system I have ever seen.

      Donna Davis

      • gina oliva says:

        Hi Donna….thank you for your comments and I look forward to hearing your stories. I too wish there was a way to take the best elements of “the Deaf Schools” and bring those into the mainstream, somehow. Truthfully, the whole push to mainstreaming was done rather haphazardly and yes we are human and we have messed up as far as these kids are concerned. I speak of us as a whole species, in that regard.

        I too have heard of individuals who apparently had the good fortune of what you describe, they lived near a Deaf school and could thereby attend both the Deaf school and the mainstream school and get “the best of both worlds.” It does certainly seem to me that this is the ideal situation nowadays particularly once the kids hit middle school. Having more settings like this around the country would be a solution.

        Again thanks for your comments and pls do send me any stories you feel comfortable sharing.

  7. Diane Plassey Gutierrez says:

    Gina, as a graduate classmate of yours, I applaud all you have written about this deaf-in-a-hearing-school syndrome. It reflects my experience both at the elementary and university levels, too.

    These settings are where young people get more than an education: they learn sophistication, social skills, emotional intelligence, etc., and the Deaf child loses out no matter how intuitive and skilled interpreters may be. There just is no substitution for peer on peer education.

    Even the Deaf student who is an excellent reader still gets shortchanged in the interaction sphere. God bless the interpreters, but make the schools Deaf-friendly by requiring ASL as a basic freshman course and admitting other Deaf students as more than a third of the incoming class. The bottom line is that there will never be a substitute for CSUN, NTID and Gallaudet.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Hi Classmate!!!! And isn’t it interesting that at this turn I am working with a faculty member from our Department (Linda Lytle)?? Talk about full circle!!

      And I say a very loud AMEN to your last sentence. The battle continues. So we have to keep on keeping on.


  8. Sue says:

    This is so true and so heart breaking! Not only for deaf children but for other as well. Maybe ASL should be taught as a second language instead of Spanish.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Now that would be a great solution also. One thing I say at every opportunity is that my own dear mother, when she was in her 80s and losing her hearing (it was mostly no hearing for the last several years of her life) told me she wished the family had learned to sign.

      When I think how much EASIER this would have made her last years it just boggles my mind why more older people don’t take seemingly no-brainer to heart. Knowing signs, even if not “full ASL” really WOULD make their lives easier – such a large percentage of folks in their 80s have hearing loss.

      Perhaps I digress a bit….but thank you for your comment nevertheless!!!


  9. Kitty LaFountain says:

    When I first started reading your article I started humming “Memory, all alone in the moonlight…”But sadly I couldn’t say “…smiling at the old days”!
    I first started in the mainstreamed school systems in 1978, wait I think I should have used quotes for the word “mainstreamed”. It was about as mainstreamed as when my profoundly deaf sister started school and was placed in one classroom with multiple handicapped students (she was three years old). She was “mainstreamed” to stand in the cafeteria line with hearing students (this was in the ’50s).
    Then in 1982 I moved on to another school system. yes, the students were mainstreamed with warm bodies that were called “interpreters”. Being a recent graduate of ITP, I followed our COE to perfection (or at least I thought),only to be outnumbered by the “others”. The “others” were kind and caring people, most of them CODAs, and none of them trained. As deaf students sat in their mainstreamed classrooms the terp might be painting a mural at the front of the school, or gossiping with the teacher of the deaf, or….. wait TMI, plus I’m getting depressed writing this story. Well, anyway most of those terps actually (after 15 to 20 years of on-the-job training) became certified terps!
    Although I spear-headed the requirement for trained and qualified terps (RID or QA) in 1986, I had to quit the system before I could really pursue some changes. And thanks to Zan Thornton for her time and efforts to make these changes come about.
    Now I have a profoundly deaf niece and nephew that are enduring the “system” of education. I’m worn out, getting too old to keep up this fight for their rights.
    Okay, I have bored everyone, but Gina you started all of this!!

  10. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for this article and conversation. I am finding similar frustrations as all of you. My situation is a bit different. I hold a certification as a Teacher of the Deaf, am an Interpreter and teach ASL at a local community college. I worked as an itinerant teacher of the Deaf for several years in a very rural area. It was not unusual for me to travel to 5 different districts in one day. I saw daily how the system was broken educationally, socially and functionally. I finally left that job and and taught in the general ed setting. I would remind my supervisors of my background and ask that any Deaf or hard of hearing be placed in my room since I had knowledge that other teachers didn’t. Sometimes they were placed in my room and sometimes they weren’t (which was frustrating again). Then my district had a Deaf student arrive and no interpreter available for this person. After going several rounds with interpreters that were not successful and/or unqualified I was offered the opportunity to transfer out of my teaching position and into that of interpreter. Due to the many different hats I have worn that lead to this point I have been able to “use” my teacher hat to educate the district about education of Deaf children and the need for not only visual access, but other needs that go along with learning in a mainstream setting, my ASL hat to offer after school ASL classes (for any student, faculty or staff – custodians, secretaries, etc have interactions with these students as well), my interpreting hat to bring interpreting into some of the after school functions and performances as well as educating faculty and staff on how to work with an interpreter and my advocacy hat to find documentation on testing procedures, establishing a resource library, sharing information with the decision makers, who did not have any idea on where to find information on educating a deaf child in a mainstream setting and in empowering the student on advocating for themselves and their rights to equal access. I think this is one of the most important aspects of mainstream education that gets lost and the “establishment” does not recognize this a necessary component. I have been lucky because I think I was listened to because I was already known to the district as a teacher and was therefore thought of as an equal. It is sad to say, but in education, interpreters are thought of as paraprofessionals, not professionals. The situation now is much more positive for all involved. I keep reminding myself that I have the opportunity in this one district/community at least to educate the system. To be a constant undercurrent of advocacy and empowerment for any interpreters or Deaf/HOH students that come here in the future.

    With this being said, I am finding that I need to continually remind, fight for the students “rights” and explain why certain activities or assessments are just not equally accessible. It is very hard when I see that the student does not understand or is missing information because many times I am the only one who knows it and having two teaching certifications- one in Deaf Ed – I feel I could really assist in these areas, but I am now the interpreter and not the teacher and so must be careful because of the Code of Professional Conduct that I am not blurring the lines. How do we get those at the “Top” who are making life altering educational decisions for these children ( and don”t have knowledge of deafness) to listen to those on the front lines that actually have the experience, knowledge base and desire to to change the status quo environment we exist in?

    • Nadine says:

      What about truly rural areas? Just for perspective, I talked to a mother in eastern Montana where the closest Teacher of the Deaf, sign language class, or any deaf students were 200 miles away.

  11. Pearl Youth AKA Pamela Steiger/LaBianco says:

    In 1981 during time of RID’s certificate evaluation training, I experienced oppression from SCRID regarding approach of RID evaluation when I knew that what they described as “ASL” was not ASL. All of them against me made me realize that THEY had not been taking ASL linguistics yet. So I lost my interest in continuing my renewal application for RCSC and moved on.

    Yet I still have problem in many, many interpreters who are NOT CODA of especially those born Deaf parents with language denied and delayed acquisition like mine who prefer to use pure ASL. Their attitudes are still reflecting paternalistic toward us who are born deaf individuals from non-signing hearing families, with that similar backgrounds as mine. I become frustrated when I tried to participate in class discussion, finding myself look idiotic in eyes of my classmates because those kinds of interpreters were good at making everyone think that something was wrong with me, instead of admitting humbly that problem was with those interpreters’ technical difficulties of interpreting. They NEVER stood up with me in many things I did at UCLA. Yet ONLY ONE interpreter, Mr Trenton Boyd, who did for me, was never trained to become interpreter by any school. He learned ASL on his onw through mingling with grassroot deaf people and living with third generation genetic deaf mother with little hearing daughter for three years. Then he became director of Independent Living Center for Disabilities for 20 years. After it collapseed due to fund cut from State government, he had to take interpreting job at UCLA by matter of luck for his finanical survival. There I had to train him to do only my way that worked well in contrast to what RID policies were designed by only hearing CODA of BI-BI Deaf Culture leaders and educators (without us the born Deaf subgroup with language denied and delayed acquisition to give any feedbacks to modifiy those policies against us, which are for all interpreters to follow. He died of AIDS 8 years later, after I graduated from UCLA. He was only one I thanked mostly for my successes in my academic education at UCLA, graduating there with MFA in Film and TV with GPA of 3.85 in 1991. I never find anyone as great as him. He was the best one. I was glad that I experienced something that I wanted mostly out of my education–an ideal kind of interpreter designed for those born Deaf individuals with language-denied-and-delayed acquisition. I won’t forget him. Most interpreters dislike me because I disagree with their interpreting policies designed in any education setting. Then why do they complain about some conflicts when they would have power to change those out-of-date policies of RID’s interpreting technologies in educational situations in one way or another. For sake of my rights of getting all education I paid for, I did mine, after time for my holding RSC expired.

    • Michelle says:

      Very good points. Thank you!

    • jerry wright says:

      T have sought out Trenton for years and I was never able to locate him. I did several presentations for him when he was director of Living Centers for Disabilities. We became friends. I am devastated to hear of his death. Thanks for honoring him.

  12. jason smith says:

    We here in Washington State are facing tremendous challenges with getting laws passed for more oversight and higher requirements in Educational Interpreting. I recently heard we are one of 8 states left that still don’t have any laws requiring state licensure of interpreters. Lawmakers are resistant mostly because we are in a budget crisis and they are afraid hiring and training better interpreters will require more money.

    Last week, a very brave deaf high school student testified in support of a proposed educational interpreter bill to the Washington State House Education Committee. The bill proposed more oversight of educational interpreters, and requires all K-12 interpreters be certified by RID by 2018. The bill failed to make it out of committee. We are now forced to go back to the drawing board and propose another bill.

    Any facts, research data, etc. you can share with me around the benefits of using a qualified or certified interpreter would be very helpful. We are building a case to prove that Washington State needs to set some laws requiring the use of licensed, qualified/certified interpreters. We are looking for data, not anecdotal stories.

    Also, if you have any information about how other states were able to pass laws requiring interpreters to be licensed by the state with more oversight, that would be very helpful.

    Thank you!

    • Oh….that is crushing. I am so sorry to hear that bill did not make it out of committee. Teachers are required to be certified and credentialled. Audiologists and speech therapists must meet professional academic standards. Now that the EIPA is available, it should not be an option to place students with non-certified interpreters. Educational interpreters could strike. You know the old adage: if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem. “We won’t continue to work providing an essential service supporting educational access for D/HH kids until statewide certification standards are adopted. The kids deserve qualified interpreters every day K-12.”

    • Pamela Kiner says:


      I am an educational interpreter in a consortium-based program in Beachwood City Schools (a suburb in Cleveland, Ohio). We employ ten interpreters for approximately 28 D/HH students. About five years ago, a group of us formed a committee and approached our district about implementing the EIPA for our interpreters. Our district became a testing site and paid for our tests. We proposed that all Beachwood interpreters have a minimum 3.5 EIPA score in order to maintain employment. An interpreter with a 3.5-3.9 receives a yearly stipend. A 4.0-5.0 receives an even bigger stipend! We believe that we are the first district in Ohio to implement this policy. Additionally, at the same time, we organized a Union and are currently in negotiations for our second Master Contract. I have interpreted in this district for 32 years and feel all the same frustrations for students in my program receiving an “interpreted” mainstreamed education. I know our interpreters are qualified, but are we really doing what’s best for kids?

  13. gina oliva says:

    These last two posts, Michele and Pamela, give some food for thought on what can help improve the situation on an individual basis. I think they both point to training and perhaps even a “new breed” of professional who would be trained to fill the various functions mentioned in the various posts herein. If the US of America really wants mainstreaming of Deaf and Hard of Hearing kids to be “successful” they (again, who is they, I guess the government) will need to accept that a 2 year degree or even a 4 year degree provided to an 18 year old is just not going to cut it in most cases. Maybe the 4 year degree could result in something like a “Novice” “Deaf Education Specialist” and an MA would result in a “Intermediate” of the same….maybe something like the EHDI training system or even modeled after the Audiology field. For the child to have a professional with the kinds of knowledge and skills we are talking about here is certainly as important as having a good audiologist and/or speech therapist.

    • That sounds like a hybrid position: Deaf ed/Interpreter. An attempt to add a Deaf ed specialist to the interpreter position. The role of the interpreter would have to change if there was an administrative teaching component. Dream big…have the interpreters get a teaching credential. Create a 5 year program that results in a MA in Deaf Ed specialist-Interpreter.

    • Pearl Youth AKA Pamela Steiger/LaBianco says:

      I agree with you, Gina Oliva, hoping that some of those courses will include two things–mingling-with-quasi-native-ASL-user internship and character analysis. I learned soem great accomplishments of fluency in ASL as second language from few interpreting students who were under me and Dr Fleischer in our summer season workshop of interpreting training offered by both NCOD and Special Education Dept.. There by my suggested recommendation to see if it worked, they tried to mingle with only born Deaf folks living isolated from hearing community in rural country northeast of San Diego for THREE years. By that time when they returned to hearing communities, it took them one month to readjust back to what they normally spoke their mother tongue language and still kept their second but quasi-native ASL by which way, they became best interpreters…often better than those skills of CODA-ASL interpreters. Yeah they passed the test when I met them again, forgetting who they were by that time and asking them if they were Deaf. They remarked,”Hey! You did not recognize us, thinking me some born Deaf strangers!” I stared at them harder, “Oh yeah you were those of my former students. Oh geez! You passed the test of pretending to be one of native born Deaf signers! NO question about that!!” There I laughed.

      Regarding character analysis which Dr. Humphries developed for her Legal Interpreting Training for Court for two week workshop, the Character Analysis aspect of her two week workshops focuses on WHY each interpreter wants to specialize in interpreting as her or his future career. It is damn important to include that as a required part of interpreting coursem or as a separated, required course of Deaf Studies curriculum . I prefer Dr Humphries to explain about that essential development of that area for anyone to become a kind of employment. It has something important to do with attitude change–reduction of paternalistic reactions down to almost zero among all interpreters who took the workshop under Dr Humphries.

      Yeah, I finally learned about how to speak my new name, Pearl from one hearing graduate student whose major was psychology, when she saw me work on my school assignment at Computer Lab Dept for Students with Disabilities at UCLA and broke in for a short chats by typing our conversations through computer. After learning my name properly from how she showed me with her lips with almost no voice, I finally learned more that all I learned from ORALISM all wrong. I was amazed that I should not use my voice almost at all when I have to speak something. Oh geez. I learned wrongly by all those past speech teachers because I hardly knew English by time when I learned orally just like Blind had to walk without cane to figure out which way to go. How sad it is for all born Deaf oralists for trying damn hardest to be like hearing people when they were taught wrongly for nothing. Oh my gosh. In other words, for most born Deaf people, ASL should be taught first, English second and then oralism third for technical or general, surfaced purposes like to order for some kind of foods or to introduce myself or whatever that I commonly use in my communication with hearing people temporarily. All interpreters must take M.A. degree courses in Sp Ed in order to have some clouts enough of telling that damn truth to all hearing ignorant teachers from K to 12 th grade level education to protect born Deaf kids from unnecessary abuses by oralism and oral mainstreaming programs. These kids need some protections somewhere overlooked or oppressed intentionally by any authority for sake of self interest greed for money. Sigh.

  14. Vikki says:

    I remembered suffering growing up on mainstreamed classes, watching my interpreters frustrated… Now I’m reading this??? I felt compelled to see if I can help add my voice or perceptions of it? Please feel free to email me? Thank you!!

  15. Julie says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. A lot of what I read reflected my own short experience interpreting in K-12. I’ve been having an ethical dilemma since day one and this article pretty much nailed it as to why. I am probably one of the unqualified interpreters others mentioned in their responses (fresh out of an ITP with state level credential) I feel like my student is not receiving the quality of education he deserves and I feel like I am contributing to it. But is no interpreter better than an unqualified one? In my ITP, the teachers warned us about starting out working in K-12, that the most competent interpreters should be language models for these deaf students. More often than not, this is not the case. It seems like the education setting is one of the only places new interpreters can find work and experience. Do I agree with the system? No. But it is one that already exists. Knowing all of this, I go to my school each day with a guilty conscience. I have no idea what a solution might be, but wanted to thank you for posting and share my thoughts.

  16. Deaf Consumer says:

    #1 – Where are the interviews and “data” from deaf consumers? Please remember that all deaf consumers need to know that THEY can speak up for themselves. Yes, many don’t learn this until later in life, or they never are directly taught what the role of the interpreter is supposed to be.

    #2 – I see no mention of personality. Personality plays a huge role in these types of situations. It’s not *just* about having the language foundation, though having weak language skills often (but not always) lead to poor social skills and so forth.

    #3 – As interpreters, you ARE doing your job. Your job is to facilitate communication, not be the deaf student’s parent, teacher, tutor, or best friend. Period. Please do NOT cross those boundaries. If you do, then the students start to DEPEND on you for x, y, and z, and then the cycle continues until someone forces it to break – and at a potential detriment to the student.

    I am a deaf adult who grew up in the mainstream. Was it perfect? No. But is public school perfect for every student, hearing or deaf? Absolutely not. But did I learn how to interact and socialize with my hearing and deaf peers, as well as my teachers and other school staff (security, custodians, secretaries, principals, etc.)? ABSOLUTELY.

    My personality is a big part of that. I am, for the most part, pretty outgoing. I don’t have issues initiating communication. I was teased, but not for being deaf – for being a peer. Even though there was another adult in the classroom besides the teacher, I strongly believe that I was considered just another student. If I had a problem with some content or understanding something, then that was focused on after class or after school. (Math – ICK.)

    I was a reasonably good student, and went to a “hearing” college that had a couple other deaf students. Interaction with other deaf friends or folks off campus tended to occur about once a month. That was perfectly fine with me. I know a lot of people, but have a few close friends and the majority of my close friends – my best friends – are hearing. In fact, my two best friends from elementary school through present are hearing.

    And, you know what? My mainstream education wasn’t a detriment to me. It was reflective of the world around us. And, as a bonus, my hearing classmates learned what it’s like to work with/socialize with deaf peers.

    That being said, I did grow up in an area where support services were phenomenal and because of my personality, I was able to be who I am. And still am today.


    • Pearl Youth AKA Pamela Steiger/LaBianco says:

      Honey whomever you are, who won’t idenify himself or herself. I think you overlook what we have talked about. Based on MANY, MANY educational researches, those few ones, who succeeded in mainstreaming programs with use of interpreters like your case, are highly gifted learners. MANY of born Deaf students have lower IQ than yours and even than mine, are forced to be in mainstreaming programs by their ignorant hearing parents and are intentionally kept there by hearing ignorant teachers, staffs, and other authorities for sake of self interest selfishness–more money flown from a state government. Responsibility should be placed on any interpreter with MA in not only Deaf Studiens or Linguistics but ALSO in Special Education, to notice their social frustration of attempting to be one of those hearing students but feeling invisible and left out of that crowd which surely crush their self esteem. That is what we talk about. You are very exceptional type whom we are not talking about.

      We are talking about the majority of failed oralists from mainstreaming programs, asking ourselves how come it has to happen and how can we prevent that from being repeated in the future for especially those failed oralists as the majority. I was temporarily successful “oralist” (memorizing whatever I hate to do at time of speaking and lipreading training without understanding what in hell was going on) for nine month at public school in Orange County where no interpreting service was provided for me in 1963. I knew what it was like to feel left out there even though education out there were much better for me than what I got from any state school for the Deaf at my age of 12. Why did it worked SOMEWHAT for me? It was due to my highly gifted I.Q. which paved my way with its exposuring me to new exeriences of different kind of education, to become awaken in order to learn faster than what I used to learn at state school for the Deaf where I were brainwashed that I was not smart in oral classrooms and after school hours by not only authorities but also by Bi-Bi abusive peers for first several years of my school years. YET there always has been a catch about mainstreaming program–another side of its coin–no hearing individual learn all about Deaf Culture and ASL because none of them take any course on those needs in order to work with born Deaf and HOH peers better. When I taught ABC fingerspellings to those hearing students at mainstreaming program, guess what they learned it for….to cheat on tests. It disgusted me to realize that they did not care for my need of socialization. I have been stuck between Deaf and Hearing Culture Worlds–my lifetime love for uses of ASL but also my love for infinite knowledge that hearing world offers only through printed information of their spoken language like that of English eternally. I hope that someday there will be ASL’s sympol-print format invented for born Deaf to use and to translate from all of information from printed-in-English books into more books or whatever of up to date technologies for all Deaf Culture people to use. Hmmm.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Hi Julie,
      Thanks for your honesty!!!!! Really appreciate it. As for the question as to whether an unqualified interpreter is better than no interpreter? That is a very tough question. From one perspective, it is not better because the hearing people in the school (teachers, etc) will think “everything is fine.” But if there is NO interpreter, I think that would depend on how badly the student needs one. Does he have a CI or hearing aid? Can he follow at least the teacher if he sits in the front row (that was me in K-6 1955-61). Don’t have one size fits all here (or anywhere except in a few clothing stores!!)
      But again thank you for your brave honesty. I may email you personally…be on the lookout!!

      • Julie says:

        He has hearing aids and teachers use an fm but he still relies on interpreter for other people speaking. Please feel free to contact me to discuss further, I’d love your feedback.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Hi there “Deaf Consumer”,

      Thank you for your well thought out and organized post. I do not mean to discount individuals like yourself (and some could say like me) who benefitted in some ways or many ways from being Alone in the Mainstream or from being in some kind/size of mainstream program.

      I want you to know there IS research that gives voice to people like yourself, who can look back as adults and tell about their experiences. My own book (Alone in the Mainstream) has as it’s core 4 themes gleaned from over 240 essays written by “former solitaires”. Over 100 individuals wrote at least one essay, and 60 wrote 2 – 4 essays – all of which I analyzed looking for common themes. Of these individuals, only a handful have chosen to remain outside the Deaf Community. Most of them now “live in two worlds” and have both Deaf and Hearing friends. BUT, they used words similar to yours. They say that the mainstream experience “made me who I am.” Me too, it made me who I am. That’s why I feel so passionately about it. I don’t want children to go through what I went through, even tho I did get a great education. I believe that was because I was in school in the 50s and 60s when classrooms were quiet, because I was really “only hard of hearing – I had a 50 – 75 db loss at the time) and because I am smart and love to read. But, it was at significant cost in terms of an “impoverished” social life (a word coined by Claire Ramsey in “Deaf Children in Public Schools – which inspired me to write my own book).

      There are a few other studies that interviewed mainstreamed students, either while they were still students or as adults — Martha Sheridan (Inner Lives of Deaf Children — two volumes); Kim Kurz’s chapter in Educational Interpreting (Winston, Ed.); Mindy Hopper’s upcoming work on Incidental Learning; to name the ones that come immediately to mind. Other books talk about other peoples’ research. Irene Leigh and Mark Marshark have published several books each – you can take a look at these.

      I did ask my informants what combination of factors could lend themselves to a successful mainstream experience — there answers were family support, an outgoing personality (like yours), and the ability to speak and hear at least somewhat. Most of the people who wrote essays for that book did not have interpreters, because they were in school before there were many interpreters in schools. And so, this adds to the need for a second book.

      The next book (in progress, with co-author Linda Lytle) involves focus groups, essays, and surveys of adults who are now between the ages of 18 and 35, many of whom did have interpreters. If you are in that category (eg, that age group), it would be great to have your involvement and also from others who have had positive experiences. We need to continue to look at what made the experience positive, including interpreter characteristics. Again, feel free to email me directly ( if you would like to be included in this current study.


      • Deaf Consumer says:

        I think I need to clarify something… I was NOT the sole deaf student in my school. I absolutely recognize that being truly alone can have a negative impact on deaf students. I’ve had friends tell me that I was lucky to have grown up attending schools where I had the benefit of being around other deaf students.

        At the same time, the fact that there were approximately 20-30 deaf students in each of my public schools at any given time (elementary, middle/junior high, and high school), meant that I was truly able to see the impact of personality and prior experiences, etc. on social interaction and communication.

        However, I stand by what I said… my deaf peers were, maybe surprisingly, NOT my closest friends. I didn’t “latch” on to them, but I did notice, especially in middle and high school, that they congregated and pretty much only socialized with one another. Here’s a story that stands out in my mind:

        When I first entered 6th grade, in the new middle school, where we all had our own lockers and had 7 different teachers, I walked into the cafeteria for lunch. With my classmates all now having different schedules, I looked around to see which of my friends had the same lunch period I did. I saw some of my closest hearing friends and had lunch with them that day and the rest of that week. And towards the end of the week, I noticed that all the other deaf students with the same lunch period were all sitting together. And my best friend and I talked about that. I admitted I felt kind of weird/bad that I wasn’t hanging out with them because I could see them wondering why I was essentially “shunning” them. And because I was now in middle school and, admittedly, a GT/honors student, I was the sole deaf student in most of my academic classes. So after talking with my hearing friends about it, I started having lunch with my deaf peers more.

        The reason I say this is because I recognize the importance of having deaf peers to communicate with when one feels potentially isolated, etc. I recognize that I’m probably “special” and I know that I would have been fine if I had been the sole deaf student in all my schools. In fact, I applied to a magnet program for math and science for 7th and 8th grade, knowing full well that if I was accepted, I would be the sole deaf kid in that middle school. When I applied to colleges, Gallaudet wasn’t even on my mind, and neither was RIT, even though I had Debby DeStefano trying to recruit the hell out of me to go to Gally. I wanted academics. I wanted diversity. I wanted the real world. And I attended college and graduate school out of state.

        My experience is why I truly believe that having amazing parental support at home and a naturally effusive personality has to be taken into consideration. I never have, and never will, consider myself “alone in the mainstream.” I had deaf peers who had the same academic experiences I did, the same level of mental “agility,” in the SAME schools I attended, at the same time, and I know that they struggled. But I also know that was the same for hearing peers. At a recent high school reunion, I was excited to see what was up with all my classmates, and learned that one deaf peer and a couple hearing peers all weren’t that happy – they felt like the reunion was “high school all over again,” and I didn’t. So it’s all about our personal perspectives, etc. And I don’t think you can try to fit data into so much diversity.

        In short, successful education should be about looking at each child as an individual – looking at his/her personality, motivations, comfort levels, etc., and then determining the best environment for that child. I do NOT believe that mainstreaming is the problem. I believe that the “pack” formula is.

        I see that someone talked about having a TOD in the same room with a hearing teacher. I visited a Tripod school in Burbank years ago to observe the co-teaching structure that they had, and was fascinated by it. I saw problems with it, but I think that was just the specific teachers/classrooms, and not the philosophy.

        Unfortunately, it’s impossible to have the BEST teachers, the BEST staff, etc. work in every single classroom where students may need that extra support. But I don’t think the majority of deaf students do. The majority of deaf children ARE just like their hearing peers in terms of mental acuity and agility. Just deaf. But if they’re language-delayed, then that’s an issue to be dealt with. And the reason they’re language-delayed likely has nothing to do with the academic environment. It’s probably due to lack of appropriate access to language from birth to age 5.

        The reason I am anonymous, “Pearl Youth,” is because I understand that my name is well-known in my area, and I want my local peers and interpreters to read my comments without having an internal bias as a result of knowing me.

        Thank you.

  17. NAD member says:

    Visiting very interesting building at Rossyln, Va – “Newseum” December 1999, almost 50 states – newspapers periodic day – front pages or headline copied paper which was posted on the board had Los Angeles Times printed one of series – articles about the public schools. It showed that mental retardation students could not learn how to read any book in mainstreaming schools. Sending them to special school or resident school among special teachers could teach them guranteed skill how to read. It sounds as same situation as deaf/HH students. My suggestion you surf on Los Angeles Times web site for review all of series – articles. Also we heard in Florida state government send all of deaf/HH to deaf/blind residence campus in order to get cheap services. One interpreter for one student is very much, but deaf schools take care on all students into two groups faster or slower.

    For example, deaf student from deaf parents had to get rides on subway/rail to attend hearing school with an interpreter until 11:00 AM
    classroom. Then he walked across the street to get social event among deaf students at deaf school before go home via longer trip daily.
    So use balance between schools daily to earn a lot of skills.

    Remember they were not C.I at same time. My hope is reading deaf books ahead among C.I. students. We will see in the future.


  18. Cousin Vinny says:

    Just throwing this out of here…

    What if technology could be used? i.e., mainstreamed Deaf/HH students get, say, 15 minutes a day to engage in structured sessions with their peers at the Deaf school via VP? These sessions would be structured by the Teacher of the Deaf’s at both institutions and incorporate some social and/or emotional intelligence components.

    This doesn’t solve the immediate issues surrounding social interactions between mainstreamed Deaf/HH students and their hearing peers at their schools all day long. Sure, academic interactions are taking place, and the interpreters contribute to it immensely. But on a social/emotional level, I’m not sure how interpreters can help facilitate the process.

    Thank you for spurring some discussion on this issue and giving me some food for thought.

  19. John Reade says:

    I’m a retired teacher and administrator from the Newfoundland School for the Deaf. I became involved in Deaf education through interpreting, although I was not “certified” at that time. Back in ’71 there were few interpreters and fewer certified, trained interpreters. When I became National Director of the Association of Canadian Educators of the Hearing Impaired (ACEHI), I was instrumental in advocating for the use of certified teachers of the deaf to be used in ALL classrooms that had a Deaf or Hard of Hearing student. Having interpreted in classroom settings in the past (both high school and university), I knew of the difficulty the students had with complete participation and understanding of the instructor. As national director, I also lobbied to have a ToD on the AVLIC committee that was struck to develop guidelines for educational interpreters in Canada. It is very important to get the message across that it is NOT good enough to simply place students in a classroom with an educational interpreter (either certified, trained or, most often, untrained with nominal skills) and expect them to learn.

  20. Bree says:

    Perhaps an annual week-long conference(s) (national &/or regional, like R.I.D.) dedicated to educational ‘terps needs & concerns? During summers, of course. ;-)

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Good idea!!! NOTED!! Actually I was told they have such an “animal” in at least one state already! Maybe others???

  21. Gina,

    I came across this article over the weekend and felt that it was something that supported many of the comments here and the perspective that the entire system is a mess. It appears that it isn’t just D/deaf students that struggle interfacing with the system, but D/deaf teachers as well.

    This is an excerpt from the article (URL is below).

    “Kelly Laatsch, a senior from Freeland, has been deaf since birth. She is in her final year of the education program and is completing her student teaching requirement in a class of hard of hearing students in Saginaw.

    Laatsch requested an interpreter to complete this requirement and was told by Karen Edwards, director of student teaching, that if she were to utilize an interpreter, she wouldn’t pass her student teaching requirements.

    Laatsch said she brought a section of the Michigan Department of Education Teaching Technical Standards that states (students) should “understand and speak in English” to Edwards’ attention. The document also states students may complete this requirement “with or without reasonable accommodations.”

    Despite Laatsch’s efforts, Edwards and Susie Rood, director of Student Disability Services, told her she would need to complete a portion of her student teaching without the aid of an interpreter.”

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Hi Brandon…I did see that and commented on it on FB. What a “catch-22″ situation. I hope Kelly wins her fight.

  22. Amy Williamson says:

    Thank you so much Dr. Oliva,

    You have clearly outlined many of the factors that confound a mainstreamed education for deaf children today. At the heart of all of your points is ‘our’ role in this.

    I am a certified interpreter. I am a child of deaf parents. My parents are both products of a residential deaf school education. They both went to Gallaudet and came back to their home state to become teachers at a residential school for the deaf (not their Alma Mater, but the rival state school). I have other deaf family members and they all went to residential schools for the deaf. Growing up, I wanted to be a teacher of the deaf. After graduating from high school in 1990, I went to a college that offered a Deaf Ed major and it was THERE that I learned that not all deaf kids went to schools for the deaf. I was stunned!!

    In the program, I was told that mainstreaming is the best option for deaf children. I was told that the education at schools for the deaf were substandard. I was told that ASL is a bastardized form of English. My whole world view was shaken…I knew my family members to be language rich, intelligent, successful individuals. I knew that I could not continue this path of education without investigating mainstreamed education myself. I got a job interpreting in a public school so I could get the inside scoop, so to speak.

    I was hired with no credentials (other than being born to deaf parents) and was thrown into the classroom head first. I had no idea what I was doing and here 20 years later I still cringe at remembering the harm I likely caused in that first classroom setting I was in.

    This experience was exactly what I needed to confirm my intuition as a deaf education student. The students I worked with were viewed as ‘successful’. They were supported. They did okay in the classes they had. They, for the most part, had parental support and school support. The educational team viewed me (in all of my naivety)as an integral part in educating these children AND I will argue until the day I die that their education was a failure. I failed them. The system failed them.

    I worked in this setting for 2 years and worked my way out of educational interpreting by getting Nationally Certified and seeing that I could have more autonomy out in the community. This was the 2nd way the system and I failed these students. My skills as an interpreter were not valued within the educational job classification system so I went where they were valued. This problem still exists today.

    In the years since that first experience with mainstreamed education, I have been in and out of classrooms as a substitute interpreter. I have also twice since then held short term positions in public schools. I have learned how to be an activist from the inside. I have brought in deaf adults and other deaf kids as much as I can. I have used video conferencing technology to bring deaf adults and other deaf children into the classroom. I have talked directly with parents about what education for deaf children looks like in other places. I assume that the teachers of the deaf do not have the language expertise that I have, I assume that parents want the best for their children, and together with the regular education teachers’ knowledge of child development, we work together to find the best placement for the children we share.

    In each of the educational settings I have been in, I have worked with a school based team and the family to determine the best placement. For most of the students I have worked with, this was to have the child (with family in many of the situations) move to a community where there is a larger deaf community. Not a perfect option either…but one that far outweighed the options of the area they were in. In each of these situations, I advocated myself right out of a job. The mantra was and is: “It’s not about me”.

    Currently, I mentor interpreters in educational settings. Many states require an EIPA level of 3.5 or 4 in order to be employed in the school system. I support minimum levels for interpreters and at the same time advocate that this assessment is a first step in determining someone’s competency in the classroom. My one goal in working with these interpreters is to accept and own the role they have in the child’s entire life. It IS that big. The gravity of their role and the implications of every choice they make in the classroom. In my mentoring, I work to empower interpreters to listen to their intuition and to advocate for the student from within the system, even if it means they are speaking out against their own position or role in the classroom.

    As an interpreter and a coda…and a parent of a former foster daughter who is deaf and has moved back in with me…I urge every one of us to stand up and speak. To not sit back and let the travesty of educating deaf children as it stands continue. Dr. Oliva, you are exactly right. WE are the only ones in this unique position. We need to step into the power we have and use it to the deaf community’s advantage.

    I have always said that we are the only ones providing cradle to grave services to the deaf community. Who better than us to become activists on this issue?

    Thank you for such a great article that highlights the issues of the community and the issues that lead us to feel gagged and heartbroken. I encourage everyone feeling moved by this article to step into the power of that gag and heartbreak to make a difference, in whatever way you can.

  23. Sharon Grazioso says:

    I read the article, and all the responses (well, most of them…). All I could say to myself is: “Yeah!” “I know!” “This is SO true!” I have seen these examples first hand, from Kindergarten all the way up into College level classes. I meet with the teachers before the semester starts, and explain the “cans and cannots” of the deaf student. They all agree and say they understand, and ask that I let them know when they are going too fast, or if I need them to repeat anything. If during the lecture, the students are copying something from the board/overhead, and the teacher is giving information at the same time, I politely interrupt and ask to give a few more minutes to allow the student to finish copying before the instruction is given. “I can’t ask my whole class to wait for one student. They will just have to do the best they can”. So much for “just let me know if I’m going too fast….” The student is generally already embarrassed by having an interpreter just for them. The last thing they want is to have more attention brought on themselves. The student will not ask questions for fear of appearing stupid. Anyway, I am hoping this issue can be resolved before I retire my hands forever. I can only hope for an equal educational opportunity for the deaf. As long as they are mainstreamed, they will not be on the same playing field as their classmates unless the teaching methods are changed. Who will take the time? What branch of government will support one group of handicapped people and come up with a “system”? In my opinion, the “No child left behind” Act is leaving more children behind.

  24. Gina Oliva says:

    Thank you everyone who continues to read and post here.

    Amy I love your story and you make so many good points..I won’t comment on them individually here but as you read on you will see that your comments sparked my work today:

    Today I spent my day working on one of the book chapters where I hope to explain the “readers digest version” of how Educational Interpreting came about in the first place and where we find ourselves today. Actually I found myself doing more reading than writing – revisiting some articles and websites, particularly the
    “EIPA Guidelines of Professional Conduct for Educational Interpreters” from the website (Schick, B. 2007); and
    “Outcomes for Graduates of Baccalaureate Interpreter Preparation Programs Specializing in Interpreting in K-12 Grade Settings” (Patrie, C. and Taylor, M., 2008);

    I have read both of these articles several times – mining them for all they are worth – they have had me thinking about what we should be expecting Educational Interpreters to know — what should be in their training. I am glad we do already have some publications that have brought people together to think about training needs.

    But I couldn’t help noticing that the apparently daily (and heartbreaking) situations that my “anonymous interpreter friend” finds herself in, and that people who have posted have affirmed are not unique to her — these daily issues/situations are unlikely to be solved just by improving the training of interpreters. The interpreters can’t be the ones to be going out on a limb every single day and this is illustrated by Sharon’s comments (the immediately preceeding post):

    “If during the lecture, the students are copying something from the board/overhead, and the teacher is giving information at the same time,I politely interrupt and ask to give a few more minutes to allow the student to finish copying before the instruction is given. “I can’t ask my whole class to wait for one student. They will just have to do the best they can”. So much for “just let me know if I’m going too fast….” The student is generally already embarrassed by having an interpreter just for them. The last thing they want is to have more attention brought on themselves… [and] appearing stupid.”

    So….we are gonna need more than better prepared interpreters, right???


  25. Hope Star says:

    (Hi Amy!) The DHH program that I am currently working in is a regional program that has Certified Teachers of the Deaf, and interpreters for the students that are mainstreamed. We draw from 10 different school districts. Our program is from 3-21 age. The TODs are able to support the students in both self-contained, direct instruction classrooms & within mainstream classrooms. They are able to support the terps in areas that challenge them and the students. In working with Deaf students since 1973 I have found that it is critical that Deaf students have the opportunity to interact with other Deaf peers. Language is learned from observation of communication, communication among peers and daily interaction with a variety of people. Some Deaf students are successful in mainstream classrooms without this added support, but generally it is not positive situation for many.

  26. Noel Que says:

    Blessed be Miss Gina;

    I am the present program moderator of our high school deaf learners department and i should say that it is still taking us a very long time to fully provide proper education for our Deaf in a mainstreamed set up. We do have a variety of sign language interpreters and it is only this school year that we will assess them after an 8 years of existence of the program in our school. Even though our country have very skilled SLIs still experts should be trained to fully assess our SLI partners. In order to bring about change in our system, we will conduct an interaction between our full time teachers and our part time SLIs this coming summer so that we can threshed out issues and point out expected responsibilities of these two equally important support group for our deafies. Our SLIs here are considered as faculty members and it is only during my moderatorship that we are selecting qualified and licensed SLI. The thing that we are bothered about is their professionalism in terms of punctuality and work attitude. So i am embarking on a way how to bring about these concerns so that we can professionalize our ways. I hope that i can be provided also with some insights for i am not an interpreter but a moderator running the program for our school.

  27. Jen says:

    Great article, Gina. I am CODA, but not an interpreter and didn’t know much about this issue. Learned a lot from this post. The issue about interpreters being not much help for peer socializing brings up the problem that the public school system is not “responsible” for socialization, only education, and yet we learn maybe 75-90% of social skills and culture … at school. BUT in fact, the public school system in America, which started around 1870 when immigration was really skyrocketing, was founded partly to “culturize” and socialize (aka assimilate) immigrant children, to make sure they would learn the “American way” and prevent anarchy. Social skills, manners, morals, etc. were all part of early curriculum, so the public education system does indeed have a responsibility — to the student and to society — to help develop children’s social skills.

  28. Destiny Younger says:

    I love this! I can completely relate. I feel that interpreters should act more human and not be just a “machine.” D/hoh children need to feel they can engage with their peers as hearing children do. But I understand that having an interpreter follow them around all the time can prevent their feelings of normalcy, and communicating is difficult and some don’t wish to endure the hassle.

    I have come up with an idea that might help some. I feel that educating hearing children about all aspects of the Deaf, including sign language would help to reduce the barrier. I plan to set up assemblies with as many schools as I can, invite the Deaf community and interpreters to make a demonstration. Hopefully this will expand into teaching sign. Then go from there into wherever it takes me.

  29. PSapere says:

    I am so happy to see this article and subsequent posts discussing this topic. As an interpreter myself of 28 years now I have witnessed all of this and have long supported the idea of expanding the typical role of educational interpreters, or creating a new classroom support position. Approximately 8 years ago my colleagues and I called a meeting of interpreter trainers, interpreters, deaf educators and researchers to discuss this exact topic. We spent two full days discussing the state of education for students who are deaf and HH. Several of us supported the notion of expanding the interpreters role in education, or at the very least wanted to discuss what would help the situation, perhaps a different kind of support position? We attempted to think outside of the box, in terms of what would actually fill the need if we could design the system all over again. Expanding the role of interpreters was such a new concept that it was met with tremendous resistance and defense of the profession, to the point that we could not move forward. Perhaps the climate has now changed and we as a field have evolved to a point that it can finally be brought up as a possibility. It is truly agonizing for many of us to be in class with a head full of knowledge and awareness of our limitations as interpreters, knowing full well that deaf students are not getting an equivalent educational experience, socially, emotionally or academically. If it’s not working, we need to change it. Whether we change the interpreters role, or we come up with an entirely new support position, something needs to change.

    As a group, we felt that more educational research was needed to support the next step. So, what we could agree on was trying to come up with a research agenda to help guide the future decisions/changes in deaf education. Instead of the typical, trial and error. A book came out of our two day retreat Sign Language Interpreting and Interpreter Education: Directions for Research and Practice by Marc Marschark, Elizabeth Winston, Rico Peterson. The downside of course is that research takes time and is a slow process, in the meantime, more and more students suffer as we, interpreters, watch.

    Brenda Schick’s work has been very instrumental in bringing a lot of this to the surface and to offer guidelines to create the most optimal environment within the current system’s restraints. We need to move a step further and address the unmet needs, the ones that educational administrators think ARE being addressed, but we know are not.

    I am encouraged by these postings and this discussion.


  30. gina oliva says:

    Hi Patty (and everyone who has posted over the last few weeks),
    I have been inspired from all these comments, as I have worked on the two chapters on Educational Interpreting for my upcoming book. I have my own copy of Winston’s 2004 publication (Educational Interpreting: How it can work” The title should be “How it does not work” (LOL) but regardless it is a great collection of brilliant and useful chapters.

    I have devoured Brenda Schick’s website (Classroom and am citing it in several places. I also have wonderful examples of prosodic issues and sad little stories from my little cadre of “interpreter informants) STILL ROOM FOR MORE — email me at

    I had the book you mention (Marshark et al) in my house for several weeks, several months ago, but alas my attention was focused elsewhere at that time. I will be sure to get it from the library again now that I know how it evolved – thank you for bringing that to my/our attention. We do know this issue is not new. While it is very true that research takes much time, we can’t just let the kids continue to suffer while we slog through statistics and try to prove what we know intuitively AND from collective experience.

    I am glad that you, and everyone who has posted here, agrees that we need to take a step or several forward. All the work others have done is giving me some ideas for how things can be made better — once those congeal a bit more, perhaps I will ask Brandon to let me do another article.

    All the best to all,

  31. gina oliva says:

    OOPs. Wrong address. Getting Old.

  32. Ashley says:

    Hey Gina,

    When I was a Jr. High student, a deaf student was transferred into my class. I wanted to get to know him, so I walked up to him and asked him if he could read my lips. He could, and we became friends. He opened my eyes to a wonderful community that I did not even know existed, but also to the ignorance of the people around me. I remember clearly that he only had an interpreter for some of our (honors) classes. The rest of the time he was on his own. I recall when a teacher treated him as if he were stupid, talking to him as if he were an infant, in front of the whole class. This very intelligent young man was embarrassed and treated cruelly by teachers and students alike. I’m a student at the moment, and I have since met an interpreter who has worked in the city school system for almost 20 years (through church) who has become my mentor. She explained to me that unfortunately this was common, and that she fights these injustices every year. I’m planning on reading this book ASAP to see if my experience is similar to the ones in the book.


  33. Gina Oliva says:

    Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. Voices like yours, those of classmates of d/hh kids, are yet another voice we almost never hear from. You, along with the educational interpreters, also bear witness of what happens with the d/hh child. And, more telling, clearly this was happening only some short years ago, in the “modern” 21st century. I would be very interested in hearing more about your experiences with your classmate — you can contact me directly at

  34. As an educational interpreter in the UK, the system here is unfortunately much worse. Deaf children in mainstream schools don’t even have access to sign language interpreters. They have people who have learned a bit of sign language as there are fundamental things wrong with our system. The pay does not match the expertise of a fully qualified interpreter in the UK and therefore the job does not appeal to most as it’s difficult to sustain an income from the part time hours children are given. The system allocates a number of hours each week through an assessment – for the other hours, the deaf child has to ‘manage’! Of course there is so much incidental learning they already miss, but deaf children in the UK mainstream system could achieve so much more if the right support was put in place. I have worked with young children and now work in a college and I have found that I have completely thrown out some of the rule book about being involved. The more I try and be ‘just the interpreter’ the more I affect the dynamics. For example, if I chill out with the students and let them know that everything I interpret is confidential (although I make sure they know that some things can’t be kept confidential – ie the intent to harm oneself or others) – then they relax and talk about all sorts and form better bonds with their peers. I ensure that the students know exactly what my role is and sometimes explain it to them in great detail. Now it may be that I work with older children, but I feel it’s all built on trust, and knowledge of the deaf community and their experiences. The more the children realise I know things about deaf people and deaf culture, the more they realise that they can trust me. I was taught at one point that I can’t get involved or that the boundaries need to be rigid. However, now I’m of the mindset that the more natural I behave (ie. I am a human being and they want to talk to me!) the more natural the whole situation becomes.

  35. gina oliva says:

    Hi Karen,
    Thank you for posting your thoughts and experience on this topic. The situation is indeed maddening and is worldwide. You mentioned incidental learning and I wondered if you have seen this very recent dissertation. Dr. Mindy Hopper has done an excellent service to all mainstreamed children with this study. We need more like this. Here is the link:

    I am still welcoming stories for my two book chapters if you would like to contact me directly at

    Thank you again for your interest and concern.

  36. Andy Owen says:

    I am sure that Karen is talking about Communication Support Workers (CSWs), who work in British mainstream schools. What she says about ‘throwing the rule book out’ is interesting. I believe that it takes a certain sort of interpreter to work in education. That person must throw the ‘interpreter rule book’ out. CSWs are trained to work with deaf learners at all ages and communication levels. Interpreters however, are generally trained to work with deaf people who are high level sign language users. I work as a CSW, with an interpreting qualification, so my manager puts me with those deaf learners who are high level signers. A discussion of this and an explanation of the discrete role of the British CSW is found in my book, ‘History of CSWs’:
    At the moment I am researching what is the comparable role in other countries for a further book. If anyone has any light on the issue I would value any contact.

  37. EdTerp22Years! says:

    A huge part of the problem is that those making the decisions – from “downtown” to the building administration to the “hearing therapists” (love that title) – have NO CLUE about deaf education or deaf children. They’re not going to listen to the interpreters because they think we’re just a conduit. I was told I’m not supposed to make any decisions, I’m just supposed to interpret and if the teacher teaches the wrong information, I’m supposed to interpret that, too (like I didn’t already know that and like I don’t have such a great relationship with the teachers I work with that I can’t quietly let them know what they just said was incorrect and they basically just misspoke anyway). There need to be people “in power” who know about deaf ed and interpreting.

    • Anonymous says:

      Just so you know: some former sign language interpreters are in higher level positions for change yet the position isn’t necessarily used for the greater good of the deaf and hard of hearing or the present sign language interpreters working directly in the mainstreamed situations.

      • Gina Oliva says:

        I would love to hear more about this either on this forum or privately. Confidentiality assured. Putting finishing touches on the book so would be great to hear more info soon! Thanks for your thoughts.
        Gina Oliva (

  38. Laurie says:

    I was so moved by your blog, Gina. I have worked K-12 for over 30 years on and off and when you said “heartbroken and gagged”, it really struck a chord with me. I have had seen so many heart wrenchingly difficult situations that have been so difficult to watch.

    The thing that struck me the most was that no one in all the time I have worked in the schools has ever asked me for my opinion until you. I have a lot to share for anyone who would be willing to listen.

    I agree with those who commented about teaching ASL in the schools. There is so much more education that needs to be done on all levels. I would love to be part of a forum in the summer where we can get together and come up with creative solutions. Please keep me on your list and let me know if this ever happens.

    Thank you for saying those words “heartbroken” and “gagged’ that most people would be too scared to say. And.. thank you for being the first person in thirty years to ask my opinion. I want to read your book. I will look for it now.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Thank you Laurie,
      I am gearing up to “do something” – like “take this to the next level” over the fall and winter, doing so in my new position as a Board member with the American Society for Deaf Children. I will be posting something new here on SL and hope you will see this and join in.

      Again, thank you for your caring and passion.

  39. ZanyFace says:

    After 15+ years of interpreting as an RID certified interpreter with a degree in deaf education and a teaching credential in two states, I have decided to take an interpreting position at a local elementary school. I have never worked harder! I am re-teaching every concept introduced to the class. I am interpreting every assembly. Can someone tell me why this is the lowest paying job I ever had? I have searched job descriptions for educational interpreters k-12 across the country and most are “slash” positions (interpreter/aide/para-professional). Most are under $20/hour (check out and search “deaf interpreter), most require a high school diploma, some require a driver’s license! Reality dictates–okay, economics dictate that if my contract does not change, I will not return at the end of this school year. I feel this is one of the many problems with educational interpreting (recognizing the social dynamics separately): Schools cannot attract qualified interpreters. HR and school administrators scramble to hire “a warm body.” Families often don’t know the difference. The position needs to be filled with a certified interpreter with a degree in education (RID now requires all certified interpreters to have a bachelor degree) and pay the interpreter as a professional! Google job descriptions and salaries for speech pathologists! Sounds a bit self serving, but I strongly feel the interpreter’s training and responsibilities are comparable to a speech pathologist. The position requires assessment input with the IEP multi-disciplinary team, academic support, as well as potentially being the only ASL language model the deaf child has. Can someone point me in the right direction to guide HR as they consider rewriting the job description for my school district?

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Thank you “Zanyface”,
      I am gearing up to “do something” – like “take this to the next level” over the fall and winter, doing so in my new position as a Board member with the American Society for Deaf Children. I will be posting something new here on SL and hope you will see this and join in.

      I will check out that link traveling and trying to do this in snippets!!

      Again, thank you for your caring and passion.

  40. K says:

    After reading this article and reading a lot of the replies I’m understanding the issue a lot better. I do feel rather spoiled now as a K-12 interpreter who works in the HS setting. Although I sometimes feel disempowered/helpless to help the students, I often have many resources to turn to. Some of the things that are offered at my location are:
    -ASL classes for credit (geared toward hearing students so there are quite a few signing/hearing peers)
    - An ASL Club
    -A JRNAD club
    -3 Deaf staff members with varying positions – all of which are available for the interpreters as resources and for the students to gain native language exposure/share in the Deaf experience
    - ASL classes available for community members/parents/and staff provided after school for free
    -It is a magnet program so there is a variety of Deaf/HoH peers as well as a variety of interpreters (if a student feels they are incompatible with a specfic interpreter requests to change are typically honored).
    -Especially challenging class, or classes where there are widely different Deaf/HoH consumer needs are occasionally teamed
    -Study hall classes for say: Chemisty – a challenging class. The interpeter who interprets that class is also in study hall so that they can help mitigate missed information/clarify complex concepts.
    -Students may request tutoring after school with any interpreter of their choosing. Typically if they do this, they choose the interperter from the class with which they need support. They can also reach out to the Teachers of the Deaf for this.

    Things I wish were more common:
    -Captions on movies
    -Teachers taking advantage of sign language classes
    -Being invited to IEPs for students

    Its pretty frequent that I get asked why I continue to work in K-12 (and at my specific district) when the pay is so low. In addition to the benefits, retirement, and loan forgiveness, there is also the fact that I truly feel like I get to be a part of the Deaf community. I dont go work for other districts because I know that while the pay may be better, the services to the children might not. My job isnt perfect, there is definitely room for improvement, however I get home from work most days feeling pretty happy with the work thats happening, and empowered to help make changes if the work is unsuccessful. I feel bad for other interpreters, and the Deaf/HoH students that struggle with the system, there is definitely a long road ahead.

    • Gina Oliva says:

      Thank you “K”
      I am gearing up to “do something” – like “take this to the next level” over the fall and winter, doing so in my new position as a Board member with the American Society for Deaf Children. I will be posting something new here on SL and hope you will see this and join in.

      I love the list you made of “good things” and what you wish for more of..I am sure I will use this somehow and inform you when that time comes.

      Again, thank you for your caring and passion.

  41. Becky Hournbuckle says:

    I recently retired (again) from K-12 interpreting. During the 70-s I first worked to implement the mainstream program in a public school in conjunction with a regional school for the deaf. At the time, we felt that was the best approach for higher functioning or more verbal deaf/HOH students. However, the students who left our program and went to the state deaf school seemed to be more well-rounded and better functioning academically than the ones who continued through the mainstreaming attempt. (Just my observation) I left the profession to stay home with my boys.
    Now, fast forward 30 years, since no other interpreter was available in the new location we lived, I jumped back in, got provisional state licensing, and worked for three years with a profoundly deaf, language-deprived child from first through third grades. The parents seemed to take very little interest in learning sign language, although mom is sporadically attempting. My point is that no matter what we provide in the school system, there is an extreme limit to what we can accomplish with no support from home. (Why does this sound familiar?) This wore me out to the point that I decided to retire from this strenuous job. I was exhausted every day to the point that I was pretty worthless at home. My brain was just worn out from the expectations placed on my position by the parents as well as state licensing requirements which I had to continue working toward (totally necessary). There was no way to give “equal access” in every situation with only one person to interpret all day long. The student also wanted independence to interact with other students in his way. Most of his peers loved him and tried to learn ASL. We also had an ASL Club for 30 min. weekly after school. He was very outgoing. So he was given that opportunity at lunch and often during P.E. There is no perfect solution, but parental involvement as language models is preferred over them DEMANDING the school provide an interpreter when none is available now in that city. They refuse to send their child to the state school for the deaf which could provided that crucial language support 24/7. I totally understand!!! But, how can we possibly solve this? Meanwhile, this really smart, inquisitive student is getting farther and farther behind while being promoted with his peers. There is no one to interpret for him and the SPED teachers don’t have the language skills either, although one of them has learned a lot of ASL. Soooooooo frustrating!

    • Becky Hournbuckle says:

      I want to add that I had full support from my principal and the staff as well as the SPED director. The teachers I worked with were awesome. They did their best to accommodate wherever possible. I was totally blessed in that respect.

      • Gina Oliva says:

        Thank you Becky,
        I am gearing up to “do something” – like “take this to the next level” over the fall and winter, doing so in my new position as a Board member with the American Society for Deaf Children. I will be posting something new here on SL and hope you will see this and join in.

        I appreciate you posting these comments. You are so right about family support!!! I keep hoping that in some cases K-12 terps can show (in a variety for ways, even by just being supportive) how important this is….

        Again, thank you for your caring and passion.

  42. Paul Kiel, ASL Instructor/Lecturer Quincy University says:

    I can fully understand about the mainstream program. It has been a mess for more than 50 years and counting.

    I grew up in oral program and was caught in crack from 1967 to 1971. I had to endear with the difficulties of classroom communications. I often have to bear and grin when I can’t get full information. No interpreters! I had to read lips all day from homeroom class to last class at end of the day.

    I wish I knew sign language back then and be able to have access better to communications.

    Those days are long past behind me, but today I see the mainstream programs from sea to shining sea are in a BIG mess.

    My students who study to be interpreter would come back and tell me horror stories about innocent Deaf children caught in the web of mess.

    True to fact there is no standard policy to cover it all. It is at discretion of every administrator/program. It is depressing knowing outcomes of each situation around the country.

    We who survived the mainstream programs have scars and memories to live with.

    We do want better programs for Deaf children and it even means that we need Deaf residential schools or programs in community to do the task.

    We lay the blame for the mess of Deaf education programs with infamous 1880 Milan Conference and Oral Deaf Education.

    We need to take back Deaf Education as per se before 1880. Laurent Clerc was successful in getting Deaf Education off to the right start in 1817 and the programs were successful until those hearing people stole it.

    It is time to draw the line in sand and remind them, “Nothing About Us, Without Us!


  43. Steve says:

    my HOH son attending mainstream school nearby, at very first IEP meeting for my son, I demand that it is written that section 504 that requires equal access in education settings that it is put down that my son will have full time interpreter! At first they wd say well let’s start with small and see if he does need then we will have another meeting to increase from there. I stood up, and said gee, how would you like your children understand this amount you are asking and I am prepared to give a lecture or fact information how voucher works and what involves section 504 right here CUZ that’s what equal access means, do you guys want me to continue? They immediately said I am sorry, yes the school will provide all day interpreter with amp! Simple as that! After ten years, my son have all day interpreter and is now in freshman! Ignorance are vouchers fav term! So be knowledgeable about IEP, LRE, ADA, section 504!!

    • Gina A Oliva says:

      Hi Steve,
      So glad your son had you and that you knew your (and his) rights. Just like you said, it’s really important for parents to understand what their children are entitled to. The parents should learn from from the EHDI personnel, for starters. Once their children “age out” of EHDI, they need other professionals for continued support and education/learning about their children’s needs.
      Thanks for sharing your experience,

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