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American Sign Language:  ASL Careers

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 (  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 offered.

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" (  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" (

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" (Gurnon, 1998).

Works Cited  (1996 -- 2005).  ITP's: Two Sides of the Coin.  Retrieved April 10, 2005, from

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

Gurnon, A. (1998, February 15).  American Sign Language classes gaining popularity.  The San Francisco Chronicle.  Retrieved April 10, 2005, from

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

Reyes, P. (1994, April 28). 
She Sings Her Heart Out: Woman To Expand Advocacy For Disabled With State Post.  The Sacramento Bee, pp. N1.

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