Grand Rapids is first stop for comments on interpreter rules

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Photo 1

At the hearing in Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center Wednesday night, from left to right, are: Sheryl Emery, Director of the Division of Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Diana McKittrick, who served on the rules and regulations advisory committee; DODHH Advisory Board member Helen Boucher; and Advisory Board chair Mel (Melissa) Whalen.

Photo 2

Above, attorney Daniel Levy, Director of Law and Policy for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and Ron Robinson, Assistant Attorney General and Director of the AG’s Detroit office.

Photo 3

Valoree Boyer of DeafLINK comments while, at far right, one of the expert interpreters for the hearing signs what she is saying.

LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Interpreting in American Sign Language is a complex and multi-faceted task. Not only does it require a command of the spatial aspects that are essential to ASL, it also means correctly using facial expressions and movements, and understanding the subtle differences that make a given sign mean different things.

There was a time long ago when the prevailing wisdom in deaf education denigrated sign language. In the early 1800s, a U.S. pioneer named Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, whose name lives on in one of the centers of the deaf community, DC’s Gallaudet University, sought out information from European educators. He found that such language was critical, and a rich tradition of ASL emerged.

It follows that those who become interpreters can play critical roles in the culture of the deaf community.

So, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DODHH) has promulgated “Qualified Interpreter - General Rules.”

The first of three hearings on the proposed rules took place Wednesday night at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Place in downtown Grand Rapids.

As one might expect, most of those who commented at the hearing were interpreters themselves, or heads of agencies which deal with interpreters.

According to the michigan.gov website, DODHH “concentrates on helping improve the lives of Michigan's one million Deaf and Hard of Hearing citizens. Our mission is affirming the indisputable right of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons to secure effective communication.” There is a 13-member advisory council to the DODHH, on which sit a number of deaf people.

Sheryl Emery, DODHH director since 2008, both speaks and uses ASL. Emery, who received her BA from the above-mentioned Gallaudet University, was the first national director of National Black Deaf Advocates in 1982 at the tender age of 23.

The DODHH offers many services to the deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing communities, including technical support, information/referral, accommodations, research, and interpreter information and services, the crux of the matter at the hearing.

The greatest number of comments focused on the rules’ provision to require a 4.0 rating on the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA), a credential that assesses the skills of educational interpreters.

While there is a “grandfather clause” allowing three years to improve for current interpreters with a 3.5 rating, interpreter students said they were concerned about what the 4.0 requirement meant for them.

One recent graduate who had received a 3.8 rating said, “Now that I’ve been working, I believe my skills and my knowledge have increased, and I plan to re-test, but it really took working in the field to improve.”

Educational administrators were concerned that the more stringent requirements would limit their ability to hire interpreters. A rural school administrator said, “We want to have excellence in our system but if the 4.0 requirement creates a shortage, I’m wondering what you’re going to do about it.” Another said her school district had been trying to fill an interpreter opening for seven years.

Others were concerned about the costs of such high standards. Valoree Boyer, of the DeafLINK interpreting and advocacy agency, commented, “The question isn’t that we don’t want to provide highly qualified interpreters, it’s how can we afford it?” She and a few others  gave the opinion that  governments needed to step up.

MDCR’s Director of Law and Policy Daniel Levy attended so he could hear and consider the legal and legislative aspects of comments. Both he and Ron Robinson of the Attorney
General’s office took note about funding considerations, but said it was too early in the rules process to speculate on the possibilities.

The rules include provisions, in addition to qualifications, about court interpreters. In part they state, “A qualified interpreter shall not interpret for both opposing counsel tables in a legal proceeding.” The rules require using at minimum the services of both a proceedings interpreter and a table interpreter, defined as “an interpreter that sits at counsel’s table as
a member of the litigation team, interpret[ing] privi-leged communications between counsel and client and monitor[ing] the proceedings interpreters for accuracy.”

The deadline for written comments is 5 p.m. March 18; they can be mailed to DODHH - Public Comment, 201 N. Washington Sq., Lansing, MI 48913, emailed to DODHH@michigan.gov, or faxed to 517-335-7773. Deaf persons may sign comments over videophone, 517-507-5223.