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Reform for sign language interpreter rules criticized

By Chad Livengood
summarized by Alyssa Smith, staff writer

Prompted by several instances of sign language miscommunication in both legal and medical situations, a 2007 law was created and called for more strict education and testing requirements for interpreters. Now, six years later, the law is being put into effect, but some people are unhappy with these reforms. Longtime professional interpreters as well as graduates of collegiate sign language programs believe that the new Michigan licensing test is challenging, and there is too much emphasis on concepts that are not used in everyday community, medical, legal, and educational settings. The test focuses on antonyms, synonyms, and reading comprehension. This new licensing requirement will go into effect in June. Because of these stricter requirements and more difficult testing, some Metro Detroit hospitals and agencies are experiencing shortages of interpreters. However, Debbie Mitre-Smith, an assistant professor of sign language studies at Madonna University, thinks that the shortage in interpreters is essential “to weed out inadequate interpreters.”

Under the new certification rules, interpreters will have to pass a state exam or be nationally certified in order to work in Michigan. Called the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters, the new exam has three levels. Passing the highest level qualifies people to interpret legal matters. Passing the second level allows for the interpretation of medical appointments, government meetings, concerts, and plays. Passing the lowest level restricts interpreters to working in schools and doing video relay services. Michigan is not the only state implementing this new test; Texas and Illinois are also using this test to ensure the quality of their interpreters.

While some interpreters are upset by the possibility of losing their jobs if they cannot abide by the new certification rules, other interpreters are happy to see these stricter requirements. Marcy Colton, who serves as the executive director of the Deaf Community Advocacy Network in Sylvan Lake, says, “This law is not about the interpreters...It’s about the deaf community.” The requirements under this law are ultimately intended to prevent “horror stories” of misinterpreted information from happening.

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