Jane Leonard Brown
10 April 2005
Careers in ASL
A local Californian who
fights for rights for the deaf, Wanda Dryden, was an American Sign Language
interpreter for over 20 years “The interpreting profession is more than a
job, it's something I live,” she said, “I try to bridge the communication
gap.” (Reyes, 1994, p. N1). Because Dryden’s parents and other family
members are deaf, she felt as though she was destined to be an interpreter.
An ASL interpreter translates between two languages,
English and ASL, and dedicates a tremendous time commitment to develop
(National, 2002). The profession is fairly new as it developed in the late
1960’s, early 1970’s (ASLinfo.com). The communication gap that Dryden
refers to above can be very frustrating. The deaf “deserve to have
qualified, skilled interpreters” to facilitate interaction (National,
2002). To become a skilled interpreter, many workshops and classes are
offered. It is recommended to practice with deaf people often. After
intense schooling and practice, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
offers a certification exam. State level certification exams are also
More and more high schools and colleges are offering
American Sign Language as an alternative to satisfying their foreign
language requirement (Bell, 2000). A number of schools in Fremont,
California, a city where a vast number of the deaf community reside, offer
courses in American Sign Language. They believe that ASL is more useful in
their community than foreign languages such as German, Spanish, or French.
Students, such as high school junior Amy Pruter, enjoy their ASL courses so
much that they wish to further their learning at a college level in pursuit
of becoming ASL interpreters. The University of California and California
State University offer ASL as an option for their general education, foreign
language requirement (Bell, 2000).
There is a question on whether a formal education is
necessary for ASL interpretation. While some believe that experience is the
greatest preparation for interpretation, others believe that education is.
Interpreter Training Programs (ITP’s) provide educational training for
prospective interpreters. According to the article, ITP's: Two Sides of
the Coin, ITP’s are believed to be critical in order to obtain “a broad,
liberal education … to succeed as an interpreter” (ASLinfo.com). Although
social interaction and personal experience are crucial factors in the
training of an interpreter, the interpreter must fully understand English to
successfully translate the language. One interpreter in the same article
believes that professionalism comes with a degree and that earnings will
reflect the level of certification. Another interpreter states that, “the
deaf community is one of our greatest teachers” (ASLinfo.com).
Regardless of the level of
education, there is a wide range of challenging, satisfying, and even
lucrative interpreter career opportunities in many different fields (LaGuardia).
Carolyn Beichle, director of Bay Area Communication Access, a company that
provides interpretation services, has seen an enormous demand for ASL
interpreters, partly because of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (Gurnon, 1998). The Act,
established in 1990 from federal legislation, “requires employers, public
agencies and private entities like restaurants, hospitals and hotels to
provide accommodations for hearing-impaired people”.
Beichle guesses that her company has increased ten times since her fifteen
years in business. She said that “staff
interpreters make between $30,000 and $45,000 a year; freelancers command
from $30 to $45 an hour.” Biechle enjoys a constant pace with clients such
as “doctors' offices, hospitals, companies doing large-scale trainings and
coordinators of conventions like MacWorld (the computer industry attracts
many deaf people)”. Cheri Smith, a
Vista College instructor, sums it up well by saying, “Those
who succeed in learning ASL have a world of opportunities available to them”
ASLinfo.com. (1996 – 2005). ITP’s: Two Sides of the Coin.
Retrieved April 10, 2005, from http://www.aslinfo.com/terped.cfm
Bell, E. (2000, September 19). Sign language growing in popularity among
area's high school students. The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved
April 10, 2005, from http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2000/09/19/MN41627.DTL
Gurnon, A. (1998, February 15). American Sign Language classes gaining
popularity. The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 10, 2005,
LaGuardia Community College.
Interpreting: A Career in High Demand. Retrieved April 3, 2005, from
National Association of the Deaf. (2002, November 21). How do I become
a sign language interpreter? Retrieved April 3, 2005, from http://www.nad.org/site/pp.asp?c=foINKQMBF&b=180403
Reyes, P. (1994, April 28).
She Sings Her
Heart Out: Woman To Expand Advocacy For Disabled With State Post. The
Sacramento Bee, pp. N1.