Classroom Interpreting

Parents - Case Studies: Exploring Different Perspectives on Educational Interpreting

A“Why Me?” The Story of an Oral, Hard of Hearing Atypical Educational Interpreter User
By Janet and Sara DesGeorges

Janet, a Parent:

When my daughter Sara was seven years old, we began to question her communication access in the classroom where she attended her neighborhood (mainstreamed) school.

Sara was born with a moderate hearing loss and had developed good oral communication skills (with a little sprinkling of sign language thrown in throughout her early years). By the time she started school, her ‘native’ language was obviously spoken English, and people would make comments such as “we would never even guess she has a hearing loss.”

I however, began to hear and think about the issues related to the typical hard of hearing child. I had read a book about kids (Our Forgotten Children: Hard of Hearing Pupils in the Schools, editor: Julie Davis, SHHH publications, 2001) that focused on education for kids who are hard of hearing--who were not deaf, but not hearing--and the potential of ‘falling through the cracks’ in education, not to mention the social implications of navigating the world with a hearing loss.

A turning point in our understanding of how Sara understood spoken language was through an evaluation tool that had been performed in her classroom, called the ‘Functional Listening Evaluation” (available online at It showed that when Sara was evaluated in a quiet, close up to the speaker environment, she could access 96% of spoken language! But by placing her back eight feet, in minimum background noise, without access to the speaker’s lips, her speech reception dropped to 28%. This was the hard data that was used to convince the IEP team that Sara needed more than just her auditory listening to receive an appropriate education. It was also through my connections with other parents who had hard of hearing children that helped me begin to look beyond Sara’s ‘label’ and begin to really seek a fuller communication accessible environment for her.

As an IEP team, we then decided to pilot the use of educational interpreting services. I will always remember the day when she skipped through the door from school and said, “today, the teacher said ‘mumble, mumble, mumble.’ I looked over at the interpreter and understood to put my book in my desk.” I knew then that Sara could benefit from interpreting services.

Fast forward six years later, and it is still true. She recently started school as a high school freshman, and when she walked through the door to her geography class, the teacher had a full beard, and a style of speaking in which she understood zero percent of what was said. Luckily, the interpreter was there for full communication access.

Over the years, we have been faced with a lot of issues that have resulted from Sara being an atypical interpreter user. She has good speech, so people think that because she can ‘say it,’ she must automatically be ‘hearing it all’. We have had to negotiate with the interpreters themselves to create a new level of awareness and understanding that the interpreting services would be her back up--not her primary mode of communication. We have also had to deal with this issues which arise from the personal relationship issues and boundaries of this unique relationship between an interpreter and a student.

Some of the benefits of utilizing interpreting services have been an increased competency in sign language skills, enhancement of her social life through access to other deaf kids and adults, and a tool which will be at her disposal for her college education, where large classes are predominantly a factor. I think that there are always pros and cons of any situation, but I think that neither Sara nor I, as her parent, have regretted the decision to utilize educational interpreting services.

Sara’s Turn:

I have ultimately felt like I have benefited from my interpreter, whom I really appreciate. It is true that my Geography teacher is hard to understand. I appreciate just having the chance to look at my interpreter and catch the most important things the teacher is saying. It’s also nice that I can understand what is going on in my classes. I feel that if I didn't have an interpreter I would be getting lower grades and I would feel lost. If I didn’t get the information I need, I know my self confidence would be low because I wouldn't know what people are talking about. I feel happy and grateful that I have an educational interpreter.