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February 3, 2004

Workshop brushes up ASL

From: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - Feb 3, 2004

RIT grant helps interpreters stay current

By Greg Livadas Staff writer

(February 3, 2004) — It takes years for professional sign language interpreters to master their skill, enabling communication by translating spoken and signed words.

Even the most talented interpreters, however, say they need periodic training to keep up with new words, professional issues and cultural changes.

"Because there are so many nuances, I can understand what they mean to a degree, but there may be things I don't pick up on," said Yolanda Butler, 42, of Rochester, an interpreter for 10 years. "Things we have learned may have changed."

So with a $100,000 annual state grant, periodic workshops are being offered free to interpreters. The Community Interpreter Training Grant, based at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is now in its fifth year.

Locally, 250 to 300 people are employed as sign language interpreters; about 100 are on staff at RIT, which offers in-service training to their interpreters.

But other interpreters work as independent contractors. To spend time attending a workshop somewhere in the country means you can't work during that time and have to pay for the seminar, hotel and airfare. With the community education grant, all expenses are paid for attendees.

"Community interpreters have historically had a difficult time finding and accessing professional growth opportunities," said Sarah Schiffeler, grant coordinator. "Prior to the grant, it was kind of tough getting workshops open to those in the community. We recognize the need for interpreters to be lifelong learners, to continually work on their skills and knowledge base."

On Saturday, 70 interpreters from around the state met in Henrietta for a linguistically based workshop titled "1,000 ASL faces and the 19.8 billion ways to interpret them." Participants, with the help of a deaf instructor, discussed and demonstrated facial "grammar" used in American Sign Language.

Other workshops have had deaf people critique interpreters and verify what they meant to have signed was actually relayed by the interpreter.

Colleen Pouliot of Irondequoit, an ASL instructor at NTID, has been a deaf presenter at the workshops, teaching interpreters skills such as sign language semantics and gender differences.

"When the students have graduated and are gone, sometimes they feel left out and they don't know what to do," Pouliot said. "I want the community to help them grow with their skills so they don't feel awkward."

Assemblywoman Susan John, D-Rochester, has acquired the grant from the state's Education Department.

"There is a sizable hearing-impaired community in the Rochester area," John said. "And there are a number of people who are interpreters. Some have been interpreting for a long time but haven't had the opportunity to update their skills. This is an opportunity for people in the interpreting community to brush up on their skills and serve the hearing-impaired community better."

She said the grant has helped interpreters in much of the state. Hundreds of interpreters from 32 counties — from western New York to Binghamton, Watertown and Utica — are eligible and have participated in the free workshops.

"Not that much money gets spent on the hearing-impaired community," John said. "It turned out to be a good thing for all of upstate New York. There's not really an opportunity for a lot of interpreters to go back and do continuing education."

Other workshop topics have included cultural conflicts, interpreting in courts or for deaf-blind clients and interpreting for 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. As a result of that workshop, 300 copies of a half-hour videotape made entirely in sign language were made as a model, explaining the program, steps and transitions for those wanting to interpret AA meetings. The tape is free for anyone who can use one.

"It gives them access to something they don't have," Schiffeler said.

Copyright 2004 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.