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June 1, 2005

Deaf world short on help

From: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN - Jun 1, 2005


Many people walk around the deaf with their eyes wide shut. Rick Farrant's recent story on the deaf gave readers a glimpse into that world, where the already significant challenges are made more difficult by a shortage of certified interpreters. Lowering the standards for paid interpreters, though, isn't the answer.

More than 26,000 people in Allen County are deaf or have partial hearing. They, as well as deaf and partial hearing clients in 14 counties, are served by just 30 freelance certified interpreters, according to DeafLink, an agency of Anthony Wayne Services that provides programs for the deaf and hearing impaired. It gets worse: only eight to 10 of them are routinely available.

Lynne Gilmore, an AWS vice president, said DeafLink would need 20 to 30 more. The agency has heard from 18 people who want to know more about getting certified, Gilmore said. It's a wonderful response to the shortage. But when asked about how else to tackle the crisis, she had no answers.

Stricter state guidelines for certified interpreters won't make solving the problem any easier, but the recent toughening standards marks growth in how the state views the vital nature of the job.

Not only do state-certified deaf interpreters have to pass national skills tests, they must also pass two continuing education units per year for five years. By 2010, a bachelor's degree or higher will be required for certification.

While the skills test and continuing education requirements seem worthy, the bachelor's degree rule seems arbitrary from the standpoint that the regulations do not demand a particular field of study. Somone with an associate's degree in nursing wouldn't be eligible to be certified, but someone with a bachelor's in aeronautical engineering would.

The frustrations of the deaf don't end with the interpreter shortage. Some businesses do not follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, for one. Another is courtesy. Some deaf and partial hearing people report being pushed aside at fast-food restaurants, found impolite treatment in stores or have had businesses not accept TTY relay calls.

It's disgraceful that anyone should endure such disrespectful behavior. The ADA was written to provide a better environment for people to live, work and play. It's time now that businesses and government work with the deaf community to fulfill the law.

© 2005 Journal Gazette and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.