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Hearing-impaired teens push state bill to aid understanding

They want lawmakers to pass a law requiring interpreters of sign language to be licensed.

Published March 20, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - For 18 students at Land O'Lakes High School, it matters who talks to them, and for them.

They're deaf or hard of hearing, and they depend upon the skills of their interpreters to communicate with the hearing world. Things don't always work out.

"My dad has had to go with me to the doctor and try to interpret, and that's not appropriate," junior Chris Lennon, 16, said.

Added 15-year-old sophomore Jessica Marrero: "In school, sometimes substitutes interpreters come into the school and sometimes I get the wrong information. I don't know if there's homework for the next day or a test on the next day. ... I need an interpreter who is skilled enough to meet my language."

They want Florida to require sign language interpreters to be licensed, as provided in House Bill 991 and Senate Bill 926. And they're heading to Tallahassee today to make their case.

"We're going to suggest that the Legislature pass the law," said sophomore Amber Harris, 17. "That way there won't be a lot of misunderstandings when interpreters are working with deaf people."

School districts hire interpreters to translate for deaf and hard of hearing students. But as it is now, there is no licensing program to ensure the interpreters have extensive training and experience.

The Land O'Lakes students will attend a rally Wednesday on the Capitol steps, and then visit area lawmakers to talk about issues important to the deaf and hard of hearing. It will be the first field trip for some of the students in four years.

Lisa Schaefermeyer, the school's lead interpreter, said she thought the students would benefit academically from the trip. At the same time, she said, it could help the cause if lawmakers hear directly from the students.

"We thought it would be a great idea for the people to, rather than see numbers on a report, see the people who it affects," said Schaefermeyer, who is also president of the Florida Registry for Interpreters for the Deaf.

She held out hope that the bills, which didn't get to the House or Senate floor last year, will make it to the governor's desk this year. Florida has 2.5-million residents who are deaf or hard of hearing, Schaefermeyer said, and they deserve proper services.

"We fight so hard to get services," she said. "This is just so needed."

Schaefermeyer also hopes a licensing program would encourage more people to become trained, increasing the pool of interpreters in the long run.

Virginia Nin, another school interpreter, said she and others encouraged the students to go.

"I think they need to be motivated to self-advocate," Nin said. "It is part of our role to make sure they become independent and stand up for their rights."

Some of the students didn't need to be told twice. It can be hard enough to talk with hearing classmates, they said, much less deal with some "attitude" in places like fast food restaurants, where they can't even order drive-through.

"We need certified interpreters," said Marrero, who has several deaf family members. "It's our life."

"And it's our right," Harris added.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (813) 909-4614 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614.

[Last modified March 20, 2007, 07:19:28]

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