New Bill Could Limit The Deaf Community’s Ability To Communicate

Wednesday, February 14th 2007, 3:10 pm
By: News On 6

Deaf students rely on highly trained interpreters to communicate with their teachers through sign language. But supporters of the deaf say a new bill would let people with little to no sign language skills work as interpreters. News on 6 reporter Steve Berg reports advocates for deaf and hearing-impaired students say it's a terrible idea, and they say the students will suffer.

Jenks Freshman Jimmy Carpenter has been deaf since birth. A cochlear implant gives him a small amount of hearing, but it quickly gets drowned out in a noisy classroom, so a good interpreter is a must.

"Y'know especially if it's information that's critical for my understanding of the lesson, whether it be for a test or a quiz," said Jimmy through his interpreter.

"We would like our deaf children to have the best quality of interpreter there is possible," said Brenda Carpenter with Total Source for Hearing-Loss and Access.

Carpenter says just last summer Oklahoma passed a law that required high-level sign-language certification for interpreters. But now, just 6 months, lawmakers are already looking at a new bill to remove that requirement. In fact, the way the bill reads, the interpreter wouldn't even have to know sign language.

So how can someone who isn't skilled in sign language be an interpreter?

"That's what we thought too. That's why we're challenging this bill," Carpenter said.

Sign language may all look the same to someone who doesn't understand it, but it's like anything else. Some people are fast and accurate, and some aren't.

"If you have a good interpreter, they're able to keep up,” Jimmy said. “If you have one that's not that great, they tend to be falling behind and missing lots of information."

We asked Jimmy if he's ever run into a slow interpreter.

"Once in a while," he said.

Jimmy can joke about the problem, but he knows an inexperienced interpreter is no laughing matter.

"That would be really tough to understand what the instructor is talking about whether for a test or what have you,” said Jimmy through his interpreter. “Then the potential there is to fail."

Supporters of the deaf say there is a severe shortage of interpreters who are skilled and certified in sign language. But they say removing the requirement for schools is not the solution.

A new bill could hinder the deaf community’s ability to communicate by lessening the requirements for interpreters.