Advocating with the deaf is an honor. It is a commitment many of us make every day. We do it in a spirit of collaboration, cooperation, education, communication, and kindness. Below is an example of a small effort made to make a difference.
To Hawaii’s Department of Education,
Last night I attended the Maui Disabilities forum. The evening presented research and insights on four topics that disabled people face on Maui, including issues regarding housing, transportation, employment and mental health care. Education was not on the agenda.
At the end of the evening, I along with the entire political assemble, took a pledge to do and accept various claims on behalf of supporting people with disabilities. I support the Deaf population. During my training, in college, a major component of the graduate studies was to do the necessary footwork to educate not only families of deaf children, but administration. Those in charge of making decisions, who mostly have little contact with deaf adults, and who certainly have had little to no training in the social educational issues pertaining to the history of Deaf people. I am but one voice. I do not wish to rock the boat, but only to shine a light on this population; to look at current educational practices, and through a team effort, create a more realistic successful educational system that lines to core values and high expectations of student growth to prepare them to be college or career ready.
The biggest issue facing Maui’s Department of Education (DOE) is the very same issue I faced 20 years ago when I first arrived. The misuse of contracted Teachers of the Deaf (TOD). In the early 1990’s there was an abuse of this, trying to include the Deaf students in specific classes that lead to visual modes of education, such as math and art and drama, were the beginning of mainstreaming deaf children; however because of the lack of interpreters, the Teachers of the Deaf became the interpreters. The TOD had to leave the other Deaf children in the language rich American Sign Language (ASL) classroom environment with only educational assistance (EA). Since then, the DOE eventually developed the job description for ASL interpreters; however, because the pay equals that of an EA, no certified trained interpreter can live on that pay scale. Sadly, still today the practice of using Teachers of the Deaf as ASL interpreters is being mismanaged at all levels. There are two flaws with this practice. First it is too demanding and exhausting, esp at the middle to high school level. As witnessed last night, most schools on the mainland and any federal or state agency in need of an interpreter for a 4 – 6 hour position are required by law to hire two interpreters. These interpreters switch off every 30 minutes. This practice is the norm. At the high school level it is extremely exhausting to interpret a full hour of physics, then head to interpreter a movie like, ‘Private Ryan’, and immediately move to English and interpret all literary devices. Life Skills 101 is next, and interpreters must translate not only what the teacher speaks out loud, but what each and every student verbalizes. I’m sorry to let you know, but Teachers of the Deaf are not interpreters. Some of us are skilled enough to do the job, but we can not be expected to work a 5 hour day interpreting when even the best certified interpreters would not accept that assignment. Secondly, let’s look at the student. Do ASL competent college professors at Gallaudet University or the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) or Kapiolani Community College (KCC) teach a class in psychology, then follow the deaf college student to their calculus class to teach or interpret for them there? No. Students at the high school level must learn to work with a variety of ASL interpreters. Mainstreaming Deaf kids is not about spoon feeding them the answers or pointing to the answers in the book or on another student’s paper just so they can copy and get credit to receive a degree.
Third, the same issue 20 years ago is happening today, the misuse of Teachers of the Deaf, not because there is a lack of certified interpreters, but because it is cheaper to but the burden on the Teachers. I know of three certified ASL interpreters who have availability in their day to take on assignments in our public schools. They should be hired. I believe I have the right to not accept the abusive request of the DOE who expects me to ignore one Deaf senior in order to provide intensive one on one with a college bound freshmen. If I allow the system to continue to mismanage the role of TOD, then the child suffers, and the system repeats the same poor practice that it used to before the concept was even accepted about creating a job description called interpreters. We need to recognize that both are needed to run a Deaf Education program, even if the numbers are low.
I pledged to make a difference. I know this is an economic burden. But the funding for Deaf ed CAN NOT be placed in the SPED bucket. It needs to be separately obtained and handled, and it needs to be larger than $100 / year of spending money, and hiring one staff member to do the job of two individuals.
Thank you for your time and effort to make this change happen.