Graduation to Certification: Expanding the Quality and Quantity of Certified American Sign Language Interpreters

Graduation to Certification: Expanding the Quality and Quantity of Certified American Sign Language Interpreters

Despite the increase of postsecondary Interpreter Education Programs, the number of graduates able to achieve the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) National Interpreter Certification – the minimum credential standard for professional interpreters – is declining. Numerous studies have documented the “school to work” gap for novice interpreters. The absence of certified interpreters who are prepared to enter the workforce has a significant impact on deaf people’s access to communication in crucial aspects of their lives, including job interviews, training, and medical and mental healthcare.

To help bridge the graduation to certification gap, Intelligere will be partnering with St. Catherine University’s CATIE Center. We sat down with Richard Laurion, director of CATIE Center’s Graduation to Certification Program, to learn more about the need for certified ASL interpreters, and why partnerships like this are important for the industry.

Intelligere: What are the biggest challenges American Sign Language interpreters face in becoming certified today?

Richard Laurion: There are two main issues – students often enter interpreter education programs without any knowledge of ASL. By the time they graduate, they may not yet have attained the ASL fluency and the interpreting skills necessary for certification. Many interpreters entering education programs do not have a background in ASL and are coming in without connections in the deaf community. Both factors cause people a substantial amount of work to get up to the proficiency level required for certification.

ASL interpreter education programs have also expanded over the years. Currently a bachelor’s degree is required to take RID certification. Although students may have developed good conversational competent skills in their B language (ASL for most students), they may not have the mastery needed to interpret simultaneously that is required to pass the certification test. Across the nation, graduates find that it can take up to 4 years or longer to pass the RID National test –designed as an entry to practice exam. The test has gotten harder over the past few years and pass rates have gone down. RID’s 2015 annual report documented that 890 individuals took the National Interpreter Certification Performance Test and only 173 passed. This low passing rate poses a great issue for the deaf community in terms of finding qualified and available interpreters.

Intelligere: How will the Graduation to Certification program combat this issue?

Richard Laurion: This program will give novice interpreters and recent graduates a plan towards certification. On average, certification takes over 24 months. Our program is designed for graduates to earn certification within nine months to a year, clearly reducing the time between graduation and working in the field, which will substantially benefit the deaf community.

Intelligere: What does the program entail?

Richard Laurion: The Graduation to Certification program combines online training with two – five-day periods of intensive training on campus. After completing the online and face to face components, as well as a service learning project, students will be placed with educational partners, like Intelligere, who will provide supervised work opportunities. Interpreters and Deaf consumers from diverse backgrounds in the local community will be involved in near real-life work settings. Throughout the program, students will be paired with Deaf ASL mentors and professional interpreter mentors to reflect on their interpreting development.

Intelligere: What is your end goal for the program?

Richard Laurion: Our goal is to increase both the quantity and quality of certified ASL Interpreters in the workforce. Certification is not only highly valued, but in some work settings required. Minnesota has more certified interpreters per capita than anywhere else in the country, yet deaf communities in Minnesota and across the nation still struggle for access. In our focus to increase the pool of Certified ASL interpreters, we are aiming to provide the deaf community with access to communication in all aspects of their lives.

The Graduation to Certification program will launch in late 2017. Check back for more information as Intelligere begins our partnership.