Classroom Interpreting

Students - Hearing-related differences in using interpreters

Elaine Gale, Ph.D., Director – Deaf Education at Hunter College, New York, NY

I was born deaf with a moderate to severe hearing loss. My mother, father and siblings are deaf also. While I was growing up, I used sign language with my family, and I spoke verbally with the hearing members of my family. While I can speak pretty well for myself, in many situations I prefer to access information visually, especially if the spoken message is not clear and/or if the environment is noisy.

Like many deaf or hard of hearing individuals, I think my experiences with interpreters are nuanced and difficult to explain in one short paragraph. The message here is that interpreters can be very useful in a variety of situations to help provide full access to communication. It is not always easy to convey how significant this is. Although I have been deaf since birth, I had my first interpreter when I was in college. Before college I was mainstreamed without an interpreter. Was this an adequate access to education for me? No. It was difficult for me to follow along in class and it was exhausting to try to piece together missed information after class.

At first, while using an interpreter in college, I found it difficult to channel in information visually and auditorally at the same time. Also, although I could speak for myself, and preferred to most of the times, I sometimes felt obligated to sign my questions and comments. Why? I was uncomfortable with the idea of people wondering why I had an interpreter in the first place given the fact that I could speak for myself. Overtime I found that, depending on situations, it would be easier for me not to entirely focus on the interpreter, but to use the interpreter to help fill in information difficult for me to access auditorally. I found it very helpful to use the interpreter in situations when a speaker spoke to the blackboard or walked behind me and when students spoke. It took me a while to learn to, and feel comfortable about, using an interpreter in a way that would best suit my needs, be it for 10% or 100% of the class time.

Just as in college, today each situation is unique in terms of my interpreting needs, sometimes I find it beneficial to completely rely on the interpreter without trying to listen to the main speaker. Other times I find it easier to not to depend on or minimize my use of the interpreter. Just as each situation is unique in terms of my interpreting needs, each situation is unique for all deaf and hard of hearing students' interpreting needs. It is important for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to feel comfortable about using an interpreter in a way that best suits their needs. It is equally important for educational team players and peers to understand and help support this communication need.