UH fills ASL Interpretation void
There are roughly 8,000 deaf individuals in Houston who use American Sign Language, yet there are only 1,500 ASL interpreters in the state of Texas to assist these individuals at school, doctor’s offices or job interviews.
More interpreters are needed, and to fill that need, the University offers a degree in American Sign Language Interpretation, making it the only four-year university in Texas to offer this degree.
“The community really screamed for a more enhanced degree,”said Sharon Grigsby Hill, American Sign Language Interpreting program coordinator. “There are interpreter-training programs that exist on a two-year basis, so you can receive an associate degree from some of the community colleges here in the area.”
Until 2009, the ASL program was limited to four ASL classes for those whose curricula had a language requirement. It was at the insistence of professor Lynn Maher, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, that the full ASLI major was implemented.
“Many of the (existing programs) are associate’s degrees, so … certainly the fact that we’re a four-year degree means that we can explore the more academic side to American Sign Language and American Sign Language interpreting,” Maher said.
“We give more time for the students to develop a higher level of understanding and expertise. In terms of other four-year programs in the country, we’re very young. We only just started, but I think we bring a rich diversity to our program that maybe other programs might not have.”
The number of students in the degree is small, with only four students in its first graduating class in 2012. While she would like the program to grow, Hill says that number is fine.
“One of the issues is that, unlike biology, English or psychology, we can’t have a class of 100 people to one professor. While the numbers may seem low to everyone else, they’re really ideal for American Sign Language interpreting,” Hill said.
“If we were to have a class of 40 people to one interpreting professor, there’d be no way for each of those individuals to practice their skills in the classroom and get personalized feedback.”
With the implementation of the degree came a wealth of classes, including everything from specifics in medical and legal interpreting to fine details and differences in sign language throughout the country.
“I just saw (the language) and knew that was what I wanted to major in. The way they communicated with their hands and the emotions they showed on their face was really interesting,” said ASLI sophomore Ingrid Ramirez.
As an extension of a degree and a career that works extensively with the local community, the program reaches out to the local Deaf community through class-required community service, such as a recent project when students built a home with Habitat for Humanity for a deaf individual.