American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting Resources

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Ethics & Role:

Situational Studies:


The Addition of An Interpreter
Training Program At Oakland University
by Sandra Maloney
May 30, 2000

(This portfolio was submitted in partial fulfillment of ENG 1350 Writing for the Professions at Northeastern Univerisity, and prepared for Matthew Noonan, Northeastern University)

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Problem Statement
  3. Background
  4. Proposal
  5. ASL As A Modern Language Requirement
  6. The Layout of the Program
  7. Small Number of Graduates
  8. Explanation of Layout
  9. Department Classification
  10. The Curriculum
  11. Benefit of Four-Year Program
  12. Cost
  13. Conclusion
  14. Works Cited


The following report will outline the need for an additional Interpreter Training Program in the state of Michigan. First, the report will explain what an ASL- English Interpreter is and the need for qualified Interpreters throughout the country and specifically in Michigan. Next, it will emphasize the student demand for a highly qualified Interpreter Training Program in Michigan. Finally, a proposed plan for implementing such a program at Oakland University in the College of Arts and Sciences will be presented.

Problem Statement

American Sign Language (ASL) is the third most used language in America. According to the 1990 Census, in Michigan alone there are 33,195 Deaf citizens and 393,577 citizens that are Hard of Hearing. Many of these Deaf and Hard of Hearing people use American Sign Language as their primary language. However, there are only a handful of colleges and universities in the state of Michigan that offer courses in American Sign Language. Often, it is the case that of the institutions that do offer ASL, only one or two courses are offered. This is not enough for any person to become fluent in any language and ASL is not an exception. At most universities, students acquire a small amount of skills in ASL and then they have a limited amount of options if they would like to continue their education in that field. In Michigan, there are only three programs that offer degrees in ASL-English Interpreting and only one of those programs is a four-year, Bachelors Degree Program.


Interpreters and the ADA

An interpreter's job is to listen to another person's words (and meaning) and simultaneously render them into sign language or English so that both parties can communicate effectively. In recent years, it has been proven that American Sign Language is in fact a language and with this realization, Deaf people have come to realize that interpreters should be skilled and not just any friend or family member that is knowledgeable in ASL. As more Deaf people entered the corporate world and started to attend college, the need for interpreters who were qualified grew.

To ensure that qualified Interpreters were provided, the Americans With Disabilities Act was enacted by Congress in 1990 to protect those with disabilities from unfair treatment based solely on their handicap. Title II of the ADA states that persons with disabilities are entitled to auxiliary aids and services. Auxiliary aids include "qualified interprets, notetakers, transcription services. . . open and closed captioning, telecommunication devices for deaf persons (TDD) . . . or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments;" The ADA specifies the necessity of interpreters, and because of this, more companies and businesses are required to contract the use of interpreter services.

Qualified Interpreters

Providing interpreters in and of itself is not an issue, if qualified interpreters were available; however, this is not the case. Every year there are a number of interpreter requests that go unfilled. "In 1994, the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing filled only sixty-two percent of requests for interpreter services because of shortages of interpreters and funding" (Bahan 423). Part of the reason for this is that there are not enough certified interpreters to fulfill the requirements set forth in the ADA for a qualified interpreter. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II, states that "a qualified interpreter is one who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary." There are many people who believe that because they know a little bit of ASL that they are ready to interpret and this is not true. Accepting those who are not certified by a nationally recognized organization is illegal according to the ADA, it cheats the Deaf consumer and it trivializes the professionalism that certified interpreters are striving for.

Existing Interpreter Training Programs

Interpreter Training Programs (ITPs) are established throughout the country, but only fifteen are Bachelor programs. Three programs are established in colleges in Michigan and of those two are two-year, Associates Degree programs. One is at Mott Community College in Flint and the other is at Lansing Community College. The only Bachelor's program in the state is offered at Madonna University in Livonia. Each program has been successful in developing the skills of Interpreters; however, there have been many students that have been dissatisfied with the quality of education that is offered. Two year programs lack the general education knowledge that is essential to the interpreting profession. Interpreters need an abundance of knowledge in many different areas of life. This is necessary because they may be called to interpret in a variety of different situations at any given time. Having a wealth of background knowledge will result in a better interpretation and a better interaction between all parties involved.

Madonna University, for example, is a private university and their focus is more on Deaf Studies rather than on Interpreting. Deaf Studies is important in obtaining an interpreting degree, but it's focus is on the history of Deaf Culture and the Deaf Community. These classes should be included in an ITP but there must also be strong classes in the interpreting process and in analyzing discourse. A new program that is focused on ASL- English Interpreting is necessary in Michigan and it should be offered at a reputable, public university where students can achieve a broad Liberal Arts Education while obtaining their degree in interpreting.


Oakland University should help alleviate the need for qualified Interpreters by developing a four-year Interpreter Training Program (ITP) as part of the College of Arts and Sciences. Oakland is well-known for its strong Liberal Arts Program. The University is located in the Tri-County area which means that it will draw a large number of local students to the program. As a commuter college, it will also entice older students who are returning to college or seeking the degree they never obtained. Oakland University is also in a prime location for students who have attended local community colleges, taken ASL classes and are looking for a university to transfer to in order to continue their education in ASL and ASL-English Interpreting.

The Program

The program will not be implemented all in one year. Through studying existing programs and discussing the situation with those involved in establishing those programs, it has been found that the best method for implementation is to slowly introduce the program to the students at Oakland University. This should occur over a six year time span. The way this should be introduced is laid out below. Existing Interpreting Training Programs have a history of small graduating classes due to many factors, including the lack of knowledge about the field of Interpreting. However, after a number of years, the ASL and Deaf Culture classes have a large number of students and this balances out the low number of students in the actual interpreting classes. This is important since Departments within the University are funded based on the number of classes that are taught. By incorporating ASL, first, as a fulfillment of the modern language requirement and later as part of a dual major then there will be a demand by the students for more ASL 1-4 classes. In order to compensate for there only being one of each interpreting class being taught each semester, more ASL classes will be taught.

ASL Classes

The program would include five ASL classes that must be taken successively. After the conclusion of the ASL classes, the students will have earned a proficiency certificate in ASL. The next four classes will be interpreting classes. There would be three interpreting classes and the last semester would be practical application of what was learned in the previous three classes. Interspersed throughout the four years would be required classes in Deaf Culture. Among these classes would be: Introduction to the Deaf Community, Linguistics of ASL, Cultural Comparisons, and Ethics of Interpreting.

Available Majors

At the end of the four years, the student will receive a Bachelor's Degree in ASL-English Interpreting and will be ready to take the state screening exam. The ASL classes would be offered to anyone in the University. ASL classes could also be incorporated into such majors as Sociology, Human Services, Psychology, and Nursing to enrich those programs and make the students aware of the culture and language that some of their patients may use. It is possible that a Dual Major can be developed with ASL and such fields as Human Services and Psychology. In these cases, professors from both fields have set up required courses from each discipline that students must take in order to complete a Dual Major.

ASL As A Modern Language Requirement

Oakland University, at this time, does not offer American Sign Language as part of its Modern Language requirement. For this reason, there may be doubt as to why an Interpreting Program should be developed. One of the reasons that it is suggested that ASL first be included as one of the languages that can fulfill the Modern Language requirement is so that there can be a basis for the program before it is developed any further. There is doubt that ASL can be considered a Modern Language because there is no culture that accompanies it and that it is essentially just a manual form of English, not a language in its own right.

Paul Chapin wrote an article for the National Science Foundation in which he argues the reasons for why ASL should fulfill Modern/foreign Language requirements at various high schools, colleges, and universities (Wilcox 1). Chapin states that the three reasons for a foreign language requirement are:

  1. to provide an opportunity for the student to learn "to understand language as a structured system"
  2. to give the students entree into another culture, and thus to broaden his perspective
  3. to expose the student to a new, different mode of aesthetic expression.

Chapin believes that all three are fulfilled by ASL. The first point is supported by the research of William Stoke who provided proof that ASL is a language with a complex system of morphology and other aspects of language (Stoke). Chapin believes that ASL will give students the understanding that there is a diversity in languages. There are many books that document more recent research to support the argument that ASL is a language. For further discussion on ASL as a language and ASL linguistics see Bahan, Hoffmeister, and Lane, 1996; Baker and Cokely, 1996; Carrol, 1994; Clark, Eschholz, and Rosa, 1998; Fromkin and Rodman, 1998; Lane, 1992; and Lee, 1999.

Chapin believes the second point to be true of ASL because the Deaf community has a rich Culture and it is one that students do not need to travel to another country in order to experience. ASL is even more useful to students than Spanish or French. Students are more likely to use ASL with someone within the University, such as Deaf students or professors, than they are to use any other language. In addition, student with a knowledge of ASL are more apt to use ASL in everyday interactions such as in church, at a restaurant, or in a shopping mall because Deaf people frequent such establishments.

The third point is true of ASL because it is a language of a visual nature. This shows students that language is not just written and spoken, but that language can also be manual and visual. This helps students lose some of the ethocentricity that is so prevalent in American society today, by viewing the world in a different way and acquiring some understanding of living life in a visual, as opposed to auditory, manner.

The Layout of the Program

An Interpreter Training Program should not be rushed into development. In order for the program to become successful and profitable, the best method is to develop the program over a number of years. The following is my suggested layout of the program and what type of time frame we must consider for the program to be fully implemented.

3 classes- ASL1 and ASL2; 1 class- ASL3, ASL4, Introduction to the Deaf Community. ASL 1 and ASL 2 can be taken to fulfill the University's Modern Language requirement.

3 classes- ASL1 and ASL 2; 2 classes- ASL 3 and ASL 4; 1 class- Introduction to the Deaf Community, Deaf History and Linguistics of ASL. ASL is offered as a minor in the College of Arts and Sciences.

3 classes- ASL 1 and ASL 2; 2 classes- ASL 3 and ASL 4; 1 class- Introduction to the Deaf Community, Deaf Culture, Linguistics of ASL, and Introduction to Interpreting. ASL can be incorporated as part of a Dual Major with fields such as Psychology.

4 classes- ASL1 and ASL 2; 3 classes- ASL 3 and ASL 4; 1 class- Introduction to the Deaf Community, Deaf Culture, Linguistics of ASL, Introduction to Interpreting. It will be announced that the following year Interpreting will be recognized as a Bachelor Degree Program within the College of Arts and Sciences.

4 classes- ASL 1 and ASL 2; 3 classes- ASL 3 and ASL 4; 1 class- ASL 5, Introduction to the Deaf Community, Deaf Culture, Linguistics of ASL, Introduction to Interpreting, Interpreting 1, Interpreting 2, and Cultural Comparisons.

4 classes- ASL 1 and ASL 2; 3 classes- ASL 3 and ASL 4; 1 class- ASL 5, Introduction to the Deaf Community, Deaf Culture, Linguistics of ASL, Introduction to Interpreting, Interpreting 1, Interpreting 2, Interpreting 3, Interpreting 4, Cultural Comparisons, Ethics of Interpreting.

Small Number of Graduates

This is a tentative time scale. The program should be developed slowly and should develop according to the demands of the students. Today, in current Interpreter Training Programs around the country, there are a small number of graduates each year. There has been an average of ten graduates from the program at Northeastern University in the last three years. There are numerous reasons for the low number of students in Interpreting classes. Among these reasons is that it is a difficult field to get involved in. Students in high school do not think about becoming an interpreter unless they have a Deaf family member or they have a friend who is Deaf. Students want to become doctors, lawyers, or teachers because that is a field that is familiar to them. Many high schools are beginning to offer ASL along with Spanish and French, but it is a new language and only a handful of schools have begun to do so. The ADA is also a fairly new law so a recruitment program has not yet been developed to get students interested in Interpreting.

The small number of students in the Interpreting classes is not looked favorably upon by a University's administrators, but a program goes with demand. This is why it is suggested to develop the program over a number of years so that the demand for the ASL classes is there and the number of those classes offered will compensate for the low number of students that are enrolled in the Interpreting classes. This solution has worked well for many colleges and universities, such as Northeastern University.

Explanation of Layout

To increase the number of students in the ASL classes, the program must start slowly. Currently, Oakland University offers two American Sign Language courses, ASL 1 and ASL 2. These are included as electives in the Department of Communication. The first step to creating an interpreting program is to move ASL from the Department of Communication to the Modern Language Department. In the Modern Language Department, ASL should be offered as an option to be able to fulfill the Modern Language Requirement. In order to do this, a student must take, and pass, ASL 1 and ASL 2. This will increase the number of students who will take ASL. At this time, ASL 3 and 4 should also be offered for the students who have previously taken ASL while it was under the Department of Communication and wish to continue learning the language and a Deaf Culture class should be added so that students can also learn about the Deaf Community, as it is important to know about the culture and history of the people who use a language other than one's own as they learn that specific language.

With these classes, the number of students enrolling in ASL classes will increase. I believe the second year, the number of ASL classes offered should increase. This should happen naturally, as more students will become interested in taking ASL and demand additional courses. I believe that two more Deaf Culture classes should be added, as noted above. At this stage, students should be able to chose ASL as a minor if they so wish.

Throughout the next few years, the number of classes should increase. I suggest the academic year 2005-2006 as the first year of offering Interpreting 1 and Interpreting 2, but this is a tentative date. If the numbers and the demand for interpreting classes are not there, then it should be delayed until such a demand is present.

Department Classification

It is my belief that the ASL classes should be housed under the Department of Modern Languages for the first few years. Under this Department, they will work with the other languages offered. The secretary used by the ASL section will be the secretary for the Modern Language Department. I believe this situation should continue until it has been decided to start offering Interpreting as a major. When it is declared that ASL-English Interpreting is offered to students as a Major, then this major should create their own department. They should no longer be housed under the Modern Language Department. It is possible to keep this new department in the same office, but I believe it should have its own secretary and office staff because it will be run differently than the Modern Language Department and it is important that the staff for the ASL Interpreting Department to be fluent in American Sign Language so as to communicate well with the Professors and guests to the Department who are Deaf.

The Curriculum

The curriculum of the ASL classes will follow the curriculum that was set up by Cheri Smith and her host of coworkers and consultants for the program at Vista College in California (Wilcox 69). Each level of ASL focuses on a different aspect of the language. The first level includes introductory information such as how to exchange personal information, make requests, and identify others. The second level will teach such tasks as giving directions, telling what happened in a sequence of events, and making plans. The third level of ASL will emphasis how to discuss health problems, giving instructions, and complaining and giving advice. Finally, in the fourth level of ASL the students will learn how to make analogies to explain something, how to persuade others, and logical necessity. These four level will cover most of the basics of ASL. Throughout all four levels, grammar is taught and the students will finish the ASL classes with a knowledge of how to fully and comfortably communicate in ASL. In my proposal I have suggested a fifth ASL class to coincide with Interpreting 1. I believe this class is important for the students so they can continue to work on their language skills and build their confidence using ASL while they are in the beginning stages of learning the interpreting process.

Benefit of Four-Year Program

It has been shown that four year programs are better for learning the interpreting process than two year programs. Many students begin their careers at a two year program but eventually transfer to a four year program because they feel as if they are not receiving an adequate education compared to others in their field. As I mentioned earlier, there is not a language out there that can be thoroughly acquired in two years. Most languages take at least two years to acquire. It is very difficult to learn a language and how to interpret it at the same time. If students are able to learn and apply the language and then take what they know of the language and learn the interpreting process then they would be better interpreters in the end.

Faculty/ Staff

Currently, there are two teachers of American Sign Language at Oakland University. The first year the program is running, there should be three teachers. Preferably, all three should be Deaf. The reason for this is that students should ideally learn a second language from a native user of that language. Children of Deaf Adults (CODA) are also native ASL users, but they still lack some of the innate nuances of the language that a native Deaf user of the language has mastery of. A student will learn more about the language from a Deaf teacher than they would a hearing teacher since ASL is not the hearing person's primary language their are aspects within the language that a Deaf person would be better at teaching. The grammar of ASL is in facial expressions and even CODA's do not fully acquire the natural grammar of ASL and visual ability of native Deaf signers (Bahan, et al 111-116). Therefore students of ASL will learn the most from a native Deaf signer than they would from a CODA and especially from a person who learned ASL as a second language.



The estimated cost for the first six years is $920,000 for faculty and staff. Aside from the cost for faculty and staff is the equipment cost. I believe that $10,000 is needed for the first year to cover the cost of video equipment, videotapes to be used in class and for students to use as a supplement to their class work. After the first year, I estimate the need for $4,000 for the upkeep of the equipment and the addition of new videos for the program. To obtain these funds, there are grants that the Federal Government sometimes offers to new Interpreter Training Programs. Also, there is the state Registry of Interpreter for the Deaf (RID), national RID, and also the National Association for the Deaf. Any of these institutions could be willing to help finance the cost of starting this new program.


The three teachers mentioned above would most likely be adjunct professors, therefore they would each require a salary of around $30,000 a year. As the program progresses, new faculty will need to be hired and when the actual Interpreting Program begins, a Director or Chair of the Department will need to be hired and that will cost a good deal.


Also, as students begin the interpreting classes, specialized equipment will need to be purchased so that students can practice the interpreting process. This equipment is slightly different than the equipment used by other modern language students due to the visual nature of the language. Along with the television and audio component that is currently in the language lab in 409 Wilson Hall, there would need to be a video camera and two VCR's. The cost for one carrel is approximately $7,000.00. Other costs built into the first year is the purchase of materials for the classroom such as videotapes, books, and new equipment for the language lab. The cost of this alone is around $10,000. The first year, we are looking at the cost of at least $100,000.

This is a lot of time and money, but if implemented correctly, it can greatly benefit the students and the university.


I believe that there is a strong need for a four-year Interpreter Training Program at Oakland University. The University is located in the Tri-County area and will therefore draw many students from the surrounding cities. There is a call among the students for additional course offerings in ASL. If a program were to develop slowly over the years, there will be a good number of students who will choose ASL-English Interpreting as their chosen careers. As a former student at Oakland University, I have first hand knowledge that students are interested in such a program and would pursue such a career path if the opportunity were present. I, myself, would have continued my education at Oakland had they offered such a program when I attended the institution.

I believe that offering an ASL-English Interpreting Major to students would increase enrollment and improve Oakland University's status in the state of Michigan and throughout the country. Oakland University has a high standard of education and a renowned Liberal Arts education. By including this program, Oakland will have one more academic area for which it can be recognized.


Works Cited

Bahan, Ben, Robert Hoffmeister, and Harlan Lane. A Journey Into the DEAF-WORLD. San Diego: DawnSignPress, 1996.

Baker-Shenk, Charlotte and Dennis Cokely. 1980. American Sign Language: A Teacher's Research Text on Grammar and Culture. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet UP, 1996.

Carroll, David W. 2nd ed. Psychology of Language. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1994.

Clark, Virginia, Paul A. Eschholz, and Alfred F. Rosa. Language: Readings in Language and Culture. New York: St. Martin's P, 1998.

Fromkin, Victoria and Robert Rodman. 6th ed. An Introduction to Language. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998.

Lane, Harlan. The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

Lee, Robert G., et al. The Syntax of American Sign Language: Functional Categories and Hierarchical Structure. Boston: MIT P, 1999.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. "Interpreting and Interpreter Training Program FAQ." 15 April 2000.

Stoke, William C., Jr., Dorothy C. Casterline, and Carl G. Croneberg. A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet College P, 1965.

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

Wilcox, Sherman, ed. Academic Acceptance of American Sign Language. Burtonsville, MD: Linstok P, 1992.

Proper Citation of this Document

Maloney, Sandra. "The Addition of An Interpreter Training Program At Oakland University." American Sign Language Interpreting Resources, 30 May 2000.