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November 13, 2005

Not enough to sign

From: Logan Herald Journal, UT - Nov 13, 2005

By Denise Albiston

Hearing impaired students may sue USU over lack of class interpreters

A lack of participants rather than an inability to pay is the reason behind a lawsuit that could be filed against Utah State University soon by 12 hearing impaired students on campus, according to Diane Baum, director of Utah State University's Disability Center.

"It breaks my heart that we are having these difficulties," Baum said when asked about a reported notice of intent to sue over a lack of adequate resources for deaf students. "They just want the same access that others students at USU have."

The notice of the intent to sue alleges that instead of employing more American Sign Language interpreters, USU administrators isolate and exclude hearing impaired students from classroom learning experiences. Students charge that the school's inability to provide interpreters impedes their learning abilities. The university has 60 days to respond with a specific plan to solve the problem or the students will go ahead with the lawsuit, according to media reports.

The possible lawsuit follows nearly four months of class frustration by the students to have interpreters and note takers in their classes, said Baum. Baum said she recognizes that the disability center should provide the needed interpreters for the students, but there are few interpreters willing to do the work.

"Last fall before school started we increased our pay scale to be more competitive with Salt Lake, but we just aren't getting a response," Baum said.

After sitting on councils and boards to discuss ways the state can improve the educational opportunities of the hearing impaired, Baum said it is clear there is a significant shortage of interpreters and note takers available throughout the state, not just at Utah State.

According to Baum, there are about 200 interpreters scattered throughout Utah institutions of higher education, but around 600 are needed. She said interpreting is difficult work and unsteady — especially on a college campus.

Baum said she can't guarantee full-time work for interpreters and it's hard to make a living doing something that has limited need. She said students often need an interpreter for a few hours a day, but on a college campus, it seems to be at the same time of day.

"A student might come in and ask for an interpreter at 10 a.m. and I may have 12 other requests for the same time," Baum said.

USU has five interpreters and six note takers to work with 15 hearing impaired students.

When these incidents happen, Baum said she tries to work with the students and find a different time they could take the class.

As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, the 12 students filing the intent to sue said they object to the disability center attempting to rearrange classes in order to accommodate the lack of interpreters. The news article also reports that some students have had graduation postponed because they were not able to take the classes need for graduation in a timely manner.

Baum said she feels for the students and understands their grievances. She said she wishes there was another way for the students and the disability center to work out their issues. For the last 23 years Baum said she has worried if the center would be able to find enough interpreters for student needs, and this year it just didn't make it.

"American Sign Language is a foreign language and it's every bit as hard to learn as Spanish or French," Baum said. "It can take years to be proficient in ASL."

Copyright © 2005 The Herald Journal. Logan, Utah