ccDaily > N.Y. college's sign language interpreter program gets a boost

N.Y. college's sign language interpreter program gets a boost


AEIP Project Director Rob Hills (left) and Vanessa Watson (far right), AEIP project administrative assistant, help students in the ASL-English interpreting lab at LaGuardia Community College.

Photo: LaGuardia Community College

​Philip Wilson, an educational interpreter in a program for deaf students in a Bronx public high school in New York, has a keen eye for other interpreters. He says he can usually spot those who graduated from the same American sign language (ASL) interpreters program at LaGuardia Community College (LCC) that he attended.

“There’s a certain niche they fit into, as they seem to know the importance of prioritizing their connections to the deaf community that gave them the language in the first place,” said Wilson, who graduated in June 2011 from LCC’s ASL-English Interpretation Program (AEIP).

The interpreter training program has also caught the attention of federal officials. Earlier this month, it received a five-year, $1.25-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s special education office to serve children with low incidence disabilities. AEIP, which competed against four-year institutions and graduate-level programs for the federal grant, was among only 10 programs to receive one, ranking third in quality out of 50 proposals.

“LaGuardia’s Program for Deaf Adults is one of the largest and most comprehensive postsecondary education and support programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the country,” LCC President Gail Mellow said in a statement. “Our deep commitment to serving the deaf community and educating those who work with them as interpreters is evident in the range and quality of our programs.”

Better trained school interpreters

Historically, deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind children often received the least-qualified interpreters because they couldn’t advocate for themselves, said Rob Hills, AEIP project director.

“Since many deaf students are now mainstreamed into regular classes, instead of learning from a teacher communicating directly in ASL, they are receiving an ‘interpreted’ education, which can have implications on their educational outcomes,” Hills said. “In this case, the ASL-English interpreter must be highly qualified; this is of paramount importance.”

Hills noted that a hallmark of AEIP is diversity. By including AEIP students from different races, professional backgrounds and ages, new interpreters will reflect the diversity among deaf students they serve.

“This is important because the field of interpreting does not reflect the strong diversity of deaf students out there,” he said. “One of the richest parts of our students’ education is that they themselves come from all walks of life. Their collective experience better enables them to be more ready to serve a diverse, deaf population.”

A pathway to higher degrees

AEIP prepares selected individuals fluent in ASL to become ASL-English interpreters, with a special focus on interpreting in educational settings. In its unique design, students earn a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies: ASL-English Interpretation through a partnership with Empire State College, in which they take three four-credit education courses, in addition to LCC’s interpreting sequence. If students already have a bachelor’s degree, they can take the same interpreting and educational studies sequence for a professional certificate.

Since program candidates must have an associate degree to apply, LCC also offers an associate degree in deaf studies and ASL to help prepare them for entry into AEIP.

Exceeding the average

More than 140 interpreters have graduated from LCC’s program since it started in 1997. While the average passing rate of the National Interpreting Certificate Knowledge Exam is 500, LCC students’ average score is 640. And though it is not a New York State requirement, LCC students must now take the Educational Interpreting Performance Assessment as an additional graduation requirement.

Students who received certain student aid are also required to serve for three years as educational interpreters in K-12 settings. 

AEIP is challenging—students must earn at least a “B” to advance in the program—and retention is an issue, Hills said. To retain students and keep them in the workforce pipeline, the college waives their tuition and covers their national testing fees. LCC plans to use part of its new federal grant to develop new retention strategies, such as adding tutors and mentions, he said.