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Ethics & Role:

Situational Studies:


Attracting Qualified Interpreters
to Maine
by Breeze Gammelin
April 24, 2000

Webmaster's note: the situation the paper describes in Maine was true up to the mid-'90's, but has now changed substantially - though it remains representative of circumstances that appear widely elsewhere in the country.


The following report will outline the need for qualified sign language Interpreters in Maine. I will first explain the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the law that mandates that Deaf people are provided qualified interpreters. Next, I will prove that Maine does not have enough interpreters to abide by this federal law. I will include lawsuits which Deaf people have brought against Maine businesses and won, based on the regulations of the ADA. I will define what a qualified interpreter is and describe the manner in which interpreters must be properly trained. Finally I will propose a loan reimbursement program which will encourage residents of Maine to become interpreters, to be properly trained, and to return to the state of Maine to work.

Problem Statement

There are not enough qualified sign language interpreters in Maine. Federal legislation requires that Deaf people are provided with both equal access and equal opportunity. These rights are guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. One way to grant equal access and equal opportunity to Deaf people is to provide qualified sign language interpreters. Interpreters must be provided upon request at any public or private entity that employs more than 15 people. This includes, but is not limited to, public schools, doctor offices, and courts. Maine does not have an adequate number of qualified interpreters to meet the needs of Deaf people in the state. Deaf people in Maine are being denied their right to equal access and equal opportunity.


Title II and Title III of The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that every state is required to provide "qualified interpreters for Deaf people in all services, programs, and activities provided by public entities" (United States). The majority of qualified interpreters for Deaf people choose not to work in Maine. Consequently, there is a need for qualified ASL/English interpreters in the state of Maine.

Interpreting in the state of Maine is not an advantageous profession. While the demand for qualified ASL/English interpreters is high, the pay is not. People interested in becoming interpreters should be encouraged to pursue a degree in interpreting; however, it is not a requirement to have an Interpreting degree in order to work in the state of Maine. Currently, there are no regulations controlling the qualifications of interpreters. As a result of the state's lack of regulation, the pay for interpreting is kept at a low rate.

Students who acquire a Bachelor's Degree in interpreting are properly prepared to take the national certification exam. This exam is issued by the Registered Interpreters of the Deaf (RID) [1] and upon passing both the written and expressive exams, one is certified to interpreter in any area of the United States. This certification ensures that interpreters are qualified to interpret at the standards cited in the ADA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

Title II and Title III of the ADA are regulated by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice defines a qualified interpreter as "one who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary" (United States). To meet this requirement, one must be knowledgeable in Deaf and hearing cultures, fluent in ASL and English, and skilled at interpreting. In adherence to the qualifications established by the Department of Justice, an individual should attend a four-year Interpreter Training Program (ITP). Four-year degrees in ASL/English Interpreting are offered at the following accredited colleges and universities: Western Oregon State University, University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, Madonna University, Maryville College, University of New Hampshire, and Northeastern University.

The Price of Education

Once a student has completed a four-year interpreting training program at the schools mentioned above, s/he has paid an average of $80,000 for his/her education. [2] In Maine, interpreters who work through private referral agencies have their pay regulated by the agency. In Bangor, Maine, interpreters who work through Hands on ASL, Inc., average $22-$25 an hour if they are nationally certified by RID and earn an average of $15-$18 an hour if they are not certified. [3] In Massachusetts, interpreters earn an average $50-$65 an hour if they are nationally certified by RID and $15-$25 if they are not certified.

Why would a graduate return to the state of Maine, where s/he would get paid a significantly lower rate than most places in the country, and where the standards of interpreting are also low? There needs to be an incentive to encourage qualified interpreters to work in Maine.

What is a Qualified Sign Language Interpreter?

The goal of interpreting any language, spoken or signed, is to create a successful interaction between parties who do not share, or chose to share, a common language. "The process of interpreting includes taking a source language message, analyzing the linguistic and para-linguistic elements of the message, making a cultural and linguistic transition, and producing the message into the target language" (Alcorn 152). In simpler terms, this means listening to a message in one language, applying linguistic and cultural requirements, and producing an equivalent message in another language. Interpreting involves much more than the ability to sign. Merely knowing both sign language and English does not qualify a person as an interpreter.

"Interpreting is a complex process that requires a high degree of linguistic, cognitive, and technical skills" (Alcorn 153). Interpreting involves a complex process, which was explained in the above paragraph. While an interpreter is applying the linguistic and cultural elements to the message, the next message is being produced. An interpreter must be able to retain the incoming messages while producing equivalent messages in the target language. It takes a great deal of training to acquire the skills needed to interpret.

Training to be a Sign Language Interpreter

It may be argued that it is not necessary to attend a four-year ITP to be adequately prepared to interpret at the standards of the profession. It is the opinion of RID that it is unfeasible to obtain the language fluency as well as the skills to interpret in a two-year ITP. Learning a language is a never-ending process. It is impossible to learn any language by sitting in a classroom for two years. One must use the language, absorb the language, and live the language. Students in two-year programs spend one year in language classes. Students in four-year programs spend two years in language classes. At the end of two years, students are still not fluent enough to successfully communicate in many situations; a student with one year of language instruction is even less prepared.

It is obvious that students in four-year programs have more time to prepare for their profession. There is more time to take classes such as Deaf Culture, Deaf History, Interpreting Ethics, and ASL Linguistics. There is also more opportunity to attain a broad educational background. Professional interpreters find themselves working in a variety of settings, ranging from a high school algebra class, to a divorce proceeding, to an on-the-job training for a computer technician company. Each of these situations involves specialized vocabulary and knowledge. It is essential for interpreters to have a broad base of real world knowledge in a multitude of topics, as well as the vocabulary necessary to interpret these situations.

Two-year schools are focused on moving their students through the programs as quickly as possible. It takes years to become fluent in any language, including ASL. Students must learn to understand and use both language, accurately match the registers and styles of the participants, and stay within the ethical boundaries of the profession. Students in a four-year program graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in interpreting, and more importantly, an incomparable knowledge of the language, culture, and profession. Students in a two-year program graduate with an Associates Degree in interpreting and more detrimentally, a false perception of their qualifications as an interpreter.

The results of the false perception

Graduates from a two-year program often feel, that no matter what their skill level is, they are qualified to interpret. This is not true. After a doctor completes medical school, s/he must take a certification exam. This exam determines his/her qualifications as a doctor. The interpreting profession has a similar exam. In many states, this exam determines whether an interpreter is qualified to work. In Maine, there are no agencies that regulate the qualifications of interpreters. As a result, people interpret without certification. It is not uncommon for people who may have some background in sign language, but no formal training in interpreting, to label themselves as such and proceed to accept interpreting jobs. While these people may be filling much needed positions, they are not meeting the requirements of the ADA.

When "interpreters" go out into the world and claim they are qualified to interpret. They are claiming to have the skill to take the "source language message, apply linguistic and meta-linguistic elements of the message, make a cultural and linguistic transition, and produce the message in the target language" (Alcorn 152). An interpreter who is not able to perform the above task is creating more problems than if there was no interpreter present at all. "The presence of interpreters who are not linguistically capable can result in a greater oppression and disenfranchisement of the Deaf individual, since both the Deaf person(s) and the hearing person(s) assume that having an interpreter there means 'equal access'" (Alcorn 169).

A person who "interprets" without the necessary qualifications is misrepresenting the profession. When a school hires an interpreter to attend a leadership conference with a Deaf student, the school as well as the student assumes that the interpreter is providing "equal access." If the interpreter is not qualified and cannot successfully interpret for the student than the student is not attaining the information and the school is not abiding by the ADA.

What is equal access?

Title II of The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA), mandates that the state of Maine is required to provide qualified interpreters for Deaf people in all services, programs, and activities provided by public entities within Maine, including schools. If a Deaf person requests an interpreter for a doctor's appointment, one must be provided for him/her. If a Deaf person requests an interpreter for a City Council meeting, one must be provided for him/her. If a Deaf parent has teacher/parent conferences and requests an interpreter for the conference, one must be provided to him/her. If a Deaf person is arrested, an interpreter must be provided for all legal proceedings. If a Deaf person's request for an interpreter is denied in any of the above circumstances, s/he may bring a lawsuit upon the negligent party. More and more frequently, the American Deaf Community is exercising their right to equal access and opportunity under the ADA. The lawsuits described below have been filed and won based on public and private entities' refusal or negligence in providing ASL interpreters.

What happens if the ADA is not followed?

In the April 2000 issue of Views, a monthly journal published by the RID, an article was devoted to activities of the US Department of Justice related to the enforcement of the ADA in relation to providing interpreters. In Portland, Oregon, a lawsuit was issued where a non-deaf expectant mother and a Deaf father sued a Portland obstetrician for refusing to provide a sign language interpreter for medical consultations. The suit was resolved through a consent decree reached through formal mediation. The obstetrician agreed to "institute a policy of providing sign language interpreters for Deaf patients or their partners who are Deaf to ensure effective communication, provide training for doctors and staff on the requirements of the ADA, and pay $25,000 in damages to the plaintiffs" (Views 10).

There are numerous examples of lawsuits filed by Deaf citizens against people or agencies that refuse to abide by the ADA. In 1994, Deaf individuals in Utah challenged the court system, arguing that is was in violation of the ADA to require that Deaf jurors provide their own interpreters. The appellate court agreed and ruled that it is the responsibility of the court to provide interpreters for Deaf jurors (Views 10). A New Jersey hospital recently paid a $700,000 settlement to four Deaf patients who had been repeatedly denied sign language interpreters over a 10-year period (Views 12).

Does this problem exist in Maine?

Maine is not beyond the reach of the ADA. You may be familiar with a case involving Maine Medical Center (MMC) and their negligence in providing an interpreter for a Deaf patient. The United States Department of Justice joined suit with the Deaf Plaintiff against MMC. The case was settled in 1998 with a Consent Decree. As a result of the Decree, MMC is committed to providing sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids and services to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals in order to provide equal access to hospital services. MMC is required to pay $10,000 to the United States in civil penalty for violating the ADA. The monetary payment to the Deaf Plaintiff is still being negotiated (DeVinney and USA v. MMC).

The Decree is important because it includes the definition of a qualified interpreter as stated in the ADA. The definition is followed by a list of stipulations outlining what is not considered a qualified interpreter. For example, "someone who is fluent in sign language but who does not possess the ability to process spoken communication into the proper signs or to observe someone else signing and change their signed or finger spelled communication into spoken words is not a qualified sign language interpreter" (DeVinney and USA v. MMC).

A further stipulation in the Decree includes that MMC may "never request a family member, companion, case manager, advocate or friend of a person who is Deaf to interpret communications between hospital personnel and that person"(DeVinney). The definition of a qualified interpreter in the ADA states that one must be able to interpret "impartially." This means that the person interpreting must not have any biases towards either party. Medical appointments are often emotional and personal interactions between a patient and his/her caregiver. A family member or close friend would not be capable of interpreting such an interaction impartially. For the purpose of this Decree, an interpreter shall only be considered qualified if they have a certification from either the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) or the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).

A different lawsuit was filed by a Deaf individual against a public entity for violation of the ADA. Richard Dill, of Penobscot County, was denied an ASL interpreter during his sentence of 90 days in the Penobscot County Jail. The Deaf man was convicted by the Maine District Court for operating under the influence of alcohol and assault. During the time after his arrest and prior to his court date, Mr. Dill voluntarily attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. At the time of Mr. Dill's sentencing his attorney informed the Court that an interpreter would be needed for Mr. Dill during his incarceration. Mr. Dill was informed that he would be permitted regular attendance of AA meetings and that an interpreter would be provided by the Jail for these meetings.

An interpreter was never provided for Mr. Dill during the entire period of incarceration. Mr. Dill was denied equal access to "AA meetings, counseling, psychological services, adult education programs, religious services, recreational activities, and post-release planning programs"(Dill v Penobscot County). All of these services are offered to inmates of the Penobscot County Jail. Denying equal access to individuals with disabilities is a violation of the ADA. Mr. Dill sued the Court for denying him an "equal opportunity to achieve the same benefits that nondisabled persons achieve in the Department's program". The result of the settlement between parties is not available to the public (Dill v. Penobscot County).

There are only 25 people in the state of Maine who are certified as ASL interpreters by either the NAD or the RID. [4] Every hospital, every school, every town hall, every driver's education program, every court in Maine is required to provide qualified interpreters to Deaf people. There are not enough interpreters in Maine to satisfy these positions. Therefore, requests for interpreters are often left unfilled. Or, subsequently, requests for interpreters are filled with unqualified interpreters who are not adequately skilled to interpret effectively. In either situation, a lack of interpreters results in a defiance of the ADA. The state of Maine should be motivated to increase the number of qualified interpreters in order to abide by the ADA and eschew lawsuits.

The Need for Qualified Interpreters

Maine does not just need more interpreters; Maine needs more qualified interpreters. As mentioned previously, it is not enough for a person to have a basic knowledge of ASL. There are a multitude of requirements and skills needed to be a qualified and successful interpreter. "The United States Department of Education and Congress have recognized that one of the most severe problems faced by schools in providing services to children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing is obtaining qualified educational interpreters" (Powers, 1997). Once again, this problem is not just focused on providing interpreters in general, but qualified interpreters.

Interpreting in an educational setting is one of the most challenging areas of the profession. Imagine an interpreter who has a staff position at an elementary school. The interpreter's job is to follow a 7th grade Deaf student around to each class and interpret the lesson. An average 7th grader takes about seven classes a day. The morning may consist of Language Arts, Social Studies and Gym. After breaking for lunch, the afternoon may continue with Science, Pre-Algebra, Psychology, and Art. The interpreter must have enough background knowledge and vocabulary to successfully interpret: a discussion on Romeo and Juliet, an explanation of The Battle of Gettysburg, the rules of kickball, the workings of a microscope, the easiest way to reduce a fraction, the results of Pavlov's dog experiment, and finally, how to carve a piece of wood into a gift for mother's day. Is it obvious why there is a lack of qualified interpreters?

Maine Will Continue to Need More Interpreters

The above situation is one that educational interpreters face every day. Interpreters are the only link between the Deaf student and the information being taught. If the interpreter does not understand or misunderstands, than the interpreter will be unable to interpret or will misinterpret. The student will be left with receiving either no information or wrong information. If a student is consistently not receiving the same information as his/her hearing classmates, s/he is being denied "equal access" to his/her education.

I bring this situation forward because, as I am sure you are aware, there is a dilemma occurring at the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf. Although the recent legislation to limit the age of students who are permitted to live in the dormitories did not pass, there is still a great deal of discussion of how much longer the school will stay open. There are currently 100 students attending the school. If these students are forced to leave and are integrated into public schools they are going to need qualified interpreters. As previously mentioned, there are only 25 certified interpreters in Maine. If the Baxter School closes, there will not be enough interpreters to meet the needs of the students.

Solution Statement

My proposed solution to the lack of qualified interpreters in Maine is to implement a loan reimbursement program. This program would encourage qualified interpreters to work in the state of Maine by providing financial assistance for the repayment of education loans. The state would provide annual direct payments from previously incurred qualified student loans, in return for the individual's commitment to working as a full-time interpreter in Maine. The following paragraphs will outline the eligibility requirements as well as the reimbursement plan.


In order to participate in this program, the student must attend a four-year, ITP at an accredited public or private, in-state or out-of-state institution of higher education. The student must be a resident of Maine prior to acceptance into a four-year ITP. The student must graduate in the top ten percent of his/her class with no less than a 3.25 GPA. After graduation, the student must work as a full-time interpreter in the state of Maine. To remain eligible, the student must be actively pursing a RID or NAD certification. The student will have a maximum of five years preceding graduation to acquire either certifications. If at the conclusion of five years, neither certifications have been attained, the student will lose eligibility.


The state of Maine will compensate eligible students for qualified student loans acquired while attending an ITP. Students must submit documentation of the total loan payments they will have to make (including interest) each year. This documentation will be due by July 15 of each year. During the first two years of employment, following graduation, the state of Maine will pay 100 percent of the interest accrued on the loans and 33 percent of the loan payments. After the second year of employment, the state will pay 100 percent of the interest accrued on the loans and 66 percent of the loan payments. The payment of loans will continue at this rate for as long as the individual remains in Maine as a full-time interpreter.


As long as the individual remains a full-time interpreter in the state of Maine, the loan payment agreement will be followed. If the interpreter leaves Maine to work elsewhere, the agreement will be terminated. If the individual ceases to work as an interpreter, the agreement will be terminated. If the individual does not acquire a RID or NAD certification within the required five year period, the agreement will be terminated. If the individual is at all delinquent on his/her portion of payment, the agreement will be terminated.

The state of Maine will only be responsible for payment of qualified student loans. These loans are defined as principal and interest payments incurred by a student to pay tuition or other direct expenses associated with the pursuit of an undergraduate degree. This does not include loans made by any person related to the student or loans incurred by other persons of behalf of the student.

Verification Documents

Individuals who wish to participate in this program must submit the completed application which includes:

*Written Application - Applicants will include a brief summary of their educational experiences and their current employment status. Applicants will sign a terms of agreement. This will include a mission statement of the program, followed by a statement of expectation of the applicant. The applicant must also agree to abide by RID's Code of Ethics. Violation of this code along with any other false information, will result in immediate termination of agreement.

*Credential Form - applicants must forward the Credential Form to the college or university where they completed their undergraduate degree. The Credential Form requests verification of undergraduate GPA and class rank and must have an official campus seal affixed to it. This form should be returned to the applicant and must be included with the application.

*Proof of Address - This may include a copy of current bill or jury duty selection notice.

*Proof of Employment - Applicants must prove that they are currently employed as full-time interpreters in the state of Maine. It is not a requirement that applicants must be staff interpreters or work full-time at one assignment. Applicants may be freelance interpreters, but must have a minimum of 35 hours a week of documented work. (Copies of paid invoices are acceptable forms of verification.)

*Loan Statements - Applicants are to include a copy of loan statement(s) from the lending agency(s) which documents total debt incurred and monthly payment cost/schedule.

Documents will be submitted by July 15 of every year. Applicants who do not meet eligibility criteria will be notified by August 15. Loan payments will begin on September 1st.

The application process must be repeated every year in order to validate employment of participants. Renewing applicants do not need to include a new Credential Form each year.

A prototype of this idea has been implemented successfully in the Massachusetts' education system. The program was created by the Massachusetts Department of Education and is entitled "Attracting Excellence to Teaching." The reimbursement plan outlined above has been modeled after the Massachusetts' program. The success of the program in Massachusetts has resulted in the state limiting the number of applicants that are accepted. Restricting the number of applicants will not be necessary for this program.


Maine is a wonderful state in which to live and work; those of us who are from the state will agree. Similarly, we will also agree that Maine is an economically disadvantaged state and a state that is often criticized for being "behind the time." This opinion belittles Maine; creating the impression that Maine citizens resist change and are hesitant to accept new legislation.

Maine may be a conservative state, but it is still subject to the laws and requirements issued by the federal government. The Deaf citizens of Maine have as much of a right to expect equal access and opportunity as the citizens of any other state.

The ADA requires that qualified interpreters be provided by all public and private entities. The state of Maine is not able to abide by this law because there are simply not enough qualified interpreters. Maine must offer an incentive to attract students in Interpreter Training Programs. A program, such as the one I have suggested, will encourage people to become interpreters, to be properly trained, and to return to the state of Maine to work. The quality as well as the quantity of interpreters will improve.



[1] RID is the national organization of professional interpreters for Deaf people. RID provides training for professional interpreters and is self-regulated through a national Ethical Practices System (Registry for the Interpreters for the Deaf).

[2] This figure was calculated by averaging the tuition cost at the colleges and universities that offer four year ASL/English Interpreting degrees.

[3] For more information regarding interpreting rates in Massachusetts contact the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

[4] This figure was reported by the Maine Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse is 1999.


Works Consulted

Alcorn, BJ., & J.H. Humphrey. So You Want to be an Interpreter? An Introduction to Sign Language Interpreting. 2nd ed. Texas: H&H Publishers. 1996.

Lebowitz, Lawrence and Michael Reilly. "Legal Challenges Highlight ADA's Title II Requirements." American City and County v109 (1994) 19 (1). Online. 20 April 2000. Available:

Massachusetts Department of Education. "'Attracting Excellence to Teaching' Gives Teachers Opportunity to Reduce Debt by $7,200." 28 Aug. 1998: n pag. Online. 20 April 2000. Available:

Massachusetts Department of Education. "Attracting Excellence to Teaching Program 1997-98." Memorandum. 16 Sept. 1997: n pag. Online. 20 April 2000. Available:

Massachusetts Department of Education. "Education Reform Act of 1993: Attracting Excellence to Teaching Program." Sec. 22 chpt 71. 1993: n pag. Online. 15 April 2000. Available:

Powers, A.R. "The Preparation of Educational Interpreters for Rural Education Settings." Rural Special Education Quarterly, V. 16. P 24+. 1997.

Registry for the Interpreters for the Deaf: Standard Practice Papers. "Interpreting and Interpreter Training Programs FAQ." 1998: n. pag. Online. Internet. 13 April 2000. Available:

Registry for the Interpreters for the Deaf: Standard Practice Papers. "Professional Sign Language Interpreting." 1997: n. pag. Online. Internet. 13 April 2000. Available:

Sheehan, Joanner P. "Caring for the Deaf." RN v63 I3 (2000) 69. Online. 20 April 2000. Available:

United States. Americans with Disabilities Act. Washington: DOJ, 1990.

"Update on the ADA and Enforcement." Views, April 2000: 10-12.


Proper Citation of this Document

Gammlin, Breeze. "Attracting Qualified Interpreters to Maine." American Sign Language Interpreting Resources, 24 April 2000.