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Demand for ASL interpreters far exceed supply, as more deaf Americans enter Houston’s mainstream

Recently, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VI and other laws have mandated the assistance of an interpreter interfacing with the deaf community. Demand for interpreters in technical areas, such as medicine and law, currently exceeds the number of available professionals.

Deborah Gunter of Sign Shares, Houston’s largest Interpreter service firm, said more opportunities exist than ever before for people whose first language is American Sign Language. “The problem is not having enough interpreters who are appropriately trained for specific areas,” Gunter said.

As an example, someone who can communicate using American Sign Language (ASL), may not be qualified to interpret in a court proceeding or for a medical student in a class lecture.

“Our challenge is to identify professionals specialized in a specific area,” Gunter said. “In Texas public schools, interpreters must be certified and trained to be knowledgeable in that particular environment.Similarly, you couldn’t interpret for a surgeon who was deaf unless you knew sterile technique and were familiar with the surgical procedure. Nor could you be effective in a legal proceeding unless you knew courtroom protocol and were familiar with the law.”

Charles Trevino, director of NHC’s Interpreter Training Technology Program since 1998, said students can earn the ASL Communications Skills Certification as well as an associate degree in interpreting/transliterating in English and American Sign Language.

“Since many high schools are now teaching ASL, students can transfer those skills into our program,” Trevino explained. “We have over a 90 percent placement rate for our associate degree graduates, but within a few years, a four-year degree will be required for interpreters.” 

Graduates may build private practices or work for interpreting agencies, school districts, colleges, universities, hospitals, video relay services or other entities.

Gunter said Sign Shares provides 700 hours of sign language interpreting services weekly. Assignments range from 15 minutes to all day. In a health care or mental health setting, an interpreter may be required around the clock.

Interpreters in Houston can earn between $60,000 and $80,000 annually, depending on how much you want to work. “Some interpreters only want to work 12 hours a month. Others work a 40-hour week plus additional assignments. It’s a profession where you can work as little or as much as you want,” said Gunter.

For more information about North Harris College’s interpreter training program, call 281.618.5535.

North Harris College is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive, one-half mile south of FM 1960 East, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. Registration fall 2007 is now in progress. Classes begin Aug. 27. For more information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit northharris.lonestar.edu.

NHMCCD, among the five largest and fastest growing community colleges in Texas, comprise, Cy-Fair College, Kingwood College, Montgomery College, North Harris College, Tomball College, six satellite centers, and The University Center.



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