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March 26, 2004

Sign language interpreters may see $750K funding boost

From: Arizona Daily Wild Cat, AZ - Mar 26, 2004

By Bob Purvis Arizona Daily Wildcat Friday, March 26, 2004

PHOENIX - A state commission for the deaf is asking the Legislature for $750,000 to help combat a statewide shortage of American Sign Language interpreters by boosting training at Arizona's universities.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Thompson, R-Tempe, would take the money from the Telecommunication Fund for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, which is funded by a 1.1 percent tax levied on telephone service.

The bill passed the Senate Health Committee unopposed yesterday.

There are just 91 interpreters in Arizona certified by the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, with just 25 of those interpreters certified to interpret in a legal setting, said Marian Kaanon, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing.

The small number of qualified interpreters can't meet the needs of approximately 450,000 deaf or hearing-impaired Arizonans, Kaanon said. And the problem will be exacerbated in 2007 when a state statute requires all interpreters for the deaf to be licensed by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing.

The UA is the only school in the state that offers a bachelor's degree in ASL instruction, and students can also fulfill their mandatory foreign language credits with ASL. But a lack of funding severely limits the number of students who can enroll in the program, Kaanon said.

"The issue comes down to funding. The colleges and universities ... have been hesitant. Certainly they can hire more instructors if the demand is there, but that doesn't necessarily equate to more funding," Kaanon said. "There are waiting lists, but the funding hasn't been there."

Kaanon said by allowing the commission to funnel money to the universities, the state will be able to meet the needs of its hearing-impaired population.

"This allows us to put our money where our mouth is ... to say we do have the funds that can help you grow your programs and actually meet the needs for qualified interpreters," Kaanon said.

Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, said her daughter tried to get into sign language courses at Arizona State University, but was turned away because there wasn't enough room.

"It's just like nursing. We've got the students there wanting to do it, but the universities, for whatever reason, aren't able to," Leff said. "The demand is there. ... Why has it been so hard to get these programs up and running to deal with the shortage that is so critical?"

Cindy Volk, an adjunct assistant professor in the UA's interpreter training program, said funding is the only obstacle to meeting the need for certified interpreters.

"We have hundreds and thousands of students that want in the classes, and we just don't have enough faculty members to teach the classes," Volk said. Federal funding helps cover the cost of interpreters for K-12 education, but there is no money available for interpreters who help outside of schooling.

"This would enable us to expand our program somewhat to provide training in other areas," Volk said. "The need is very desperate for interpreters out there, and we're aware of that."

Sen. Toni Hellon, R-Tucson, said expanding interpreter training at the state's universities would improve the everyday lives of Arizonans with deafness.

"I am not sure that people understand in how many cases interpreters are really needed," Hellon said. "We are not just talking about education issues. It's deaf people going into court, going into surgery. ... There are all kinds of areas where they need someone to tell them what is happening so they can make decisions and feel comfortable about what's going on."

The bill has already passed the House and will go to the Gov. Janet Napolitano's desk if it gets a majority vote from the Senate.

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