Educational Interpreters: Buck the Low Wage, No Credential Status Quo

Shelly Hansen

Most sign language interpreters at some juncture in their career will provide interpreting services in an educational setting. As mainstreaming with an interpreter has become a commonplace approach to educating deaf and hard of hearing kids, there is a consistent demand for educational interpreters.

While more common, twenty-two years after the ADA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (both signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990), there are still challenges faced by deaf children and their families in securing a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

One of these challenges is having access to a qualified, competent sign language interpreter.

Legislated Interpreter Standards

In the state of Washington, more than once in years past, bills have been put forward to establish standards for educational interpreters which would be phased in over time and require these sign language interpreters to demonstrate their proficiency thru national credentialing ie: NAD/RID/EIPA. These bills historically have not been taken past committee. This spring, during the recent 2012 WA legislative session, a group of three Deaf seniors from Snohomish High School successfully submitted HB 2765 for consideration.

WA HB 2765

Essentially this bill would have established a requirement for educational interpreters employed by school districts to successfully achieve minimum performance standards (as set by a professional educator standards board), on one national written and performance assessment by the 2015-16 school year, and national interpreter certification (either RID or NAD certification) by the fall of 2018. The full bill can be reviewed here.

The Challenge is Fiscal

Unfortunately, HB 2765 failed to reach the House floor. Among the reasons cited for not taking it past committee was…budgetary. WA state is currently experiencing a budgetary crisis, like many states in the aftermath of the Great Recession. To put it bluntly, if you raise standards for educational interpreters, the cost for those professional services will most likely increase.

I saw a posting three weeks ago for an educational interpreter position in my area. The qualification requirements include: HS diploma, proficiency in variety of sign systems and ASL with desired bilingual/bicultural Spanish skills. The hourly rate is $13.78/hr. In WA state, the 2012 minimum wage is $9.04. This is in dramatic contrast to the hourly rate of $85.08 which a freelance interpreter would need to be commensurate with the earnings of a public school teacher, as suggested by Theresa B. Smith, Ph.D in, Thinking About Money – Pulling Back the Curtain, 2009.

 Duty to Act

I would like to challenge educational interpreters in states that lack standard requirements for employment that include national credentialing to consider some kind of collective action. Imagine a “Stay Home Tuesday.” Promote utilizing available assessment tools (EIPA, RID). Find your way to your legislators and state capitol. Reject the status quo, work through your resistance and recognize the value of competency standards. Don’t ignore student efforts to secure a quality education. Dialogue and join hands with colleagues on ways to expedite the establishment of professional standards in your state consistent with national credentialing trends. Many sign language interpreters working in educational settings are already certified and their dedication and commitment to professionalism is to be commended. The students deserve to have qualified competent sign language interpreters commensurate with credentialed administrators, teaching staff, speech therapists, counseling staff etc…

Educational Interpreter Angst

Gina Oliva provides insight into the perspectives of educational interpreters in her recent StreetLeverage article: Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Settings: Heartbroken and Gagged. In her post Gina suggests that  the collective voice of educational interpreters is the only hope deaf children have in remedying the many issues they confront in the classroom. She suggests that sign language interpreters working in educational settings can do two very important things, one is to advocate for their students and the other is to bring a collective voice to the forefront in Deaf Education. Advocating educational interpreter standards is a critical first step in support of positive student outcomes in mainstream settings.

State Requirements

Below is a listing of state requirements for educational interpreters. It is difficult to find current information for each state and I would welcome updates from readers for missing or erroneous information on this listing compiled from various websites including the DOIT Center in Colorado.

Educational Interpreter Requirements

Alabama:  EIPA 3.5, RID Cert

Alaska: EIPA 4.0

Arizona: EIPA 3.5, RID Cert, NAD 3.0+

Arkansas: QAST 3/2 or 2/3, and written exam

California: EIPA 4.0, RID Cert, NAD 4+

Colorado: EIPA 3.5

Florida: RID Certification

Georgia: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Idaho: EIPA 3.5

Illinois: EIPA 3.0 (Note: 3.0 = Initial license, 3.5 = Standard License)

Indiana: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+

Iowa: EIPA 3.5

Kansas: EIPA 4.0, QAST 4+,

Louisiana: EIPA 3.0

Maine: EIPA 3.5+

Michigan: EIPA 3.5 (may be upgraded to 4.0 pending review)

Minnesota: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Nebraska: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+, QAST 4+

Nevada: EIPA 4.0, RID Certification, NAD 3+

New Jersey: EIPA 3.0, RID/NAD Certification

New Mexico: EIPA 4.0, RID Certification, NAD 3+

North Carolina: EIPA 3.5

North Dakota: EIPA 3.5, RID/NAD Certification

Ohio: RID Certification

Oklahoma: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+

Pennsylvania: EIPA 3.5

South Dakota: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Texas: RID Certification/QAST

Utah: EIPA 3.5, RID/NAD Certification, QAST

Virginia: QAST 3+

Wisconsin: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification

Wyoming: EIPA 3.5+

At the End of the Day

I would like to encourage a collegial dialogue to assess whether sign language interpreters are complicit in keeping pay scales below professional wages by continuing to work without professional standards. Raising standards of interpreter competence has a direct impact on kids’ educational opportunities and access to academic and social content, which in turn affects their future opportunities as fulfilled, contributing citizens in a global market.