Sign Language Interpreting for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Profile of National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers

Photo of sign language interpreter
Sign Language Interpreter. Hannah Johnston / Getty Images

Sign language interpreting services for deaf and hard of hearing people are scarce throughout the United States. Recognizing this scarcity and the need to do something, the United States Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration funded the establishment of the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC). The NCIEC works to address the shortage of interpreters through research and education.

NCIEC has five regional centers and one national center. All centers work together to increase the supply of qualified interpreters nationally, and improve interpreting education programs (IEPs). The centers are:

  • National Interpreter Education Center at Northeastern University
  • Northeastern University Regional Interpreter Education Center
  • Gallaudet University Regional Interpreter Education Center
  • CATIE Center at the College of St. Catherine
  • Mid-America Regional Interpreter Education Center
  • Western Region Interpreter Education Center.

The NCIEC website hosts the National Consortium Resource Center, a searchable database of interpreting topics, including interpreter education programs.

NCIEC Reports

One activity has been surveying deaf consumers, interpreters, interpreter referral agencies, and interpreter education programs. The purpose of these surveys is to identify issues, needs, and possible solutions, and establish priorities in interpreter education.

These reports have been posted on the NCIEC website. Following is a list of sample reports and key highlights:

Phase I Deaf Consumer Needs Assessment - Out of 1,250 respondents (primarily educated, working sign language users), 44% said they wanted but could not get interpreter services one to three times per month.

Most (80%) are using Video Relay Service (VRS), and almost half (45%) believe VRS makes it more difficult to get community interpreting services. Almost half (48%) said it was hardest to get interpreting services in health care (e.g., doctor's offices).

Interpreting Practitioner Needs Assessment Final Report - This survey revealed that more interpreters will be retiring than new replacements coming in, exacerbating the shortage. Not only that, while the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) requires a bachelor's degree starting around 2012, most interpreter education programs only offer associate's degrees. Plus, another survey (Interpreter Education Program Needs Assessment Survey) found that there could be a very severe shortage in about 10 years because the existing Interpreter Education Programs would be graduating far fewer interpreters than would be needed:

"...20 four-year Interpreting Education programs projected that they would graduate approximately eight interpreters per year...This scenario would produce approximately 800 new interpreters over the next five years - or 1,600 new interpreters in ten years..."

Most (75%) do not interpret in legal settings (such as courtroom). The survey found many working interpreters are not members of national organizations such as Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID); in fact, the longer an interpreter worked, the less likely he or she was to belong to those organizations. Finally, there is a growing need for Spanish sign language interpreters.

Interpreter Education Programs Needs Assessment Final Report - According to this report, "only four" bachelor's degree granting interpreting education programs have been established since 2000. Not only that, existing programs face a shortage of faculty members.

Guide comment: This could mean difficulty for interpreters in obtaining the required bachelor's degrees to qualify for RID certification.

Interpreter Referral Agency Needs Assessment Final Report - This survey, which had fewer than 40 respondents, found that pay and fees were higher at large agencies. Both large and small agencies have more part-time interpreters than full-time interpreters. Despite growing need, ASL-Spanish interpretation service is only available at a handful of agencies.

NCIEC Projects

In addition to conducting surveys and drafting reports, the NCIEC runs ten projects:

AA-BA Partnership - Objective is stronger linkages between AA and BA interpreter education programs.

Deaf Advocacy Training Initiative - Objective is to train deaf people on self-advocacy for "effective communication" (i.e., interpreting services)
Guide comment: It is a shame that this project is even necessary. Even though we have laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, clearly there is a need to teach deaf people how to advocate for interpreting services they are legally entitled to.

Deaf Interpreting - Objective is to improve training for Deaf interpreters.

Discover Interpreting - This is an effort to market interpreting as a career via a professionally designed website and companion Facebook group.

Legal Interpreting - Objective is to improve legal interpreting as a career path.

English/Spanish/ASL - Objective is to increase diversity in the interpreting profession.

Healthcare Interpreting - Objective is to improve the medical interpreting career path.

Mentoring - Objective is to expand mentoring (which is in demand by interpreters according to the survey reports). It helps interpreters become mentors or find mentors.

Interpreting Via Video - Objective is to improve video interpreting and get video interpreting training incorporated into interpreter education programs.

Do you think that the NCIEC's efforts will make a difference? 

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