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Sign Language Interpreters in Schools

The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that an education standard should address is access to information. For instance, under the Information and Communications Standards, educational institutions must make information available to students using communication supports. This mandate should mean an accessible education for all students. However, there is an important service gap which an education standard should fill. Sign Language interpretation helps students who sign succeed in school and in later life, but there is a shortage of professional Sign Language interpreters. As a result, educators cannot communicate with some of their students. More Sign Language interpreters in schools would give more students the education they need to succeed as adults.

Sign Language Interpreters in Schools

Students who are deaf may use a variety of communication supports. These supports include:

  • Sign Language interpretation
  • Speechreading
  • Real-Time Captioning (RTC)
  • Computerized Note-Taking

Many English-Canadians who are deaf communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). Similarly, many French-Canadian students who are deaf communicate using Langue des signes Québécoise (LSQ). When students who Sign in ASL or LSQ have access to professional Sign Language interpreters in class, they can understand the speech of their teachers and peers. However, there are not enough professional interpreters, so some students need to find a different way to communicate. Some schools try to fill this gap by employing interpreters with partial training, such as educational assistants who know some Sign language. However, non-professionals usually cannot interpret all the concepts and vocabulary students need to learn. As a result, a signing student might not learn everything their hearing peers do.

Students who rely on non-professional interpreters may have on-going trouble in school. For instance, a student could have trouble answering questions on tests if a partially-trained interpreter makes mistakes or cannot interpret a key concept. Likewise, a student could have trouble giving presentations if an interpreter cannot fully or correctly interpret the student’s signs to the teacher. Moreover, if students do not have accurate lesson interpretation in early grades, they will not have the knowledge they need to do well in later grades. In addition, students and teachers will have more and more communication difficulties as lesson topics become more complex.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore how an education standard can help to place more Sign language interpreters in schools.