Lack of signers for ASL students
December 2, 2008
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At the beginning of the fall semester, the Kern Community College District noticed a violation to the union contract: American Sign Language interpreters’ wages needed to be cut down.
Thus, students were forced to drop classes because of the shortage of interpreters.
The issue is currently under the process of being resolved, but deaf students could not wait much longer. On Nov. 6, the issue was brought up to the board of trustees at the Weill Institute of Bakersfield College. Students wearing blue shirts saying “equal access now” attended the meeting.
“I am pleased to hear that there is attention,” said Tom Moran, an ASL professor. Moran attended the board meeting along with nine other speakers who addressed the issue. Among one of those speakers, hard of hearing student Alicia Garrison, a business administration major, explained her situation as an anonymous interpreter translated. “Some are able to sit with their professor, but I couldn’t,” she said. “I couldn’t meet with my professor because I need an interpreter to come with me.”
There have been complaints about a shortage of interpreters and poorly trained interpreters. There are about 20 deaf students at BC, and most of them were forced to drop classes, are currently getting poor grades, or not getting equal access. “Students need interpreters who are qualified and certified,” said Moran. “They need to be able to talk about the subject and simultaneously translate properly.”?
According to Angelica Gomez, director of the Disabled Students Program and Services, there were two levels of sign language interpreters. Because the job description needed to be revised, a level three has been added which requires a higher wage. “Level one does not require a (state) certification but requires some interpreting experience,” said Gomez. The human resource center, DSPS and BC faculty have contributed in the job description process.
The process is slow and requires approval from the district to finalize, approve or reject. “As of last week, it was in the district and we are waiting for it to get approved,” said Gonzales. “With every challenge, we are looking for a possible solution.”
According to Moran, the community offers interpreters at about $45 an hour. The way interpreters were paid before the semester began was an invalid form of pay. The cut was a 50% decrease, which caused interpreters to quit.
The lack of interpreters caused board members to use other forms of teaching methods for students. Michelle Begendik, the deaf service coordinator, gave an insight on what new technology can be offered for students. Remote captioning is one of the possible solutions.
Basically, a student attends class as the professor lectures. Miles away, a translator listens through a microphone over the Internet. The translator must type 200 words per minute in order to keep up with the lecture. “These solutions may be good for some students but not good for the others,” said Begendik.
“I would like to try it [the new equipment] if there is still a shortage of interpreters,” said Garrison. “But it may not be the same. I would rather have an interpreter.”
Interpreters who are still interested in interpreting for BC must accommodate the student’s schedule, which makes it difficult in some situations. “At the beginning I had in interpreter for economics,” said Garrison. “But he was removed because he was needed for another class.”
Another form of new technology that may be offered might be remote interpreting. “We are currently looking at video technology for students,” said Gomez, “just in case we need it.”
Remote captioning involves an interpreter listening to the lecture and the student watches the video. But once the job description is revised and approved, there may be no need to get the equipment. “Once it’s approved, we can get the word out and hopefully recruit the necessary interpreters,” said Gomez.
Outside agencies were also taken into consideration, but it is more expensive. “It also depends how many students enroll, what the schedule is like,” said Begendik.