Jerry Kopel


Colorado’s deaf and hard of hearing community deserves competent interpreters

It’s time for legislators to treat Colorado’s 42,000 deaf and 350,000 hard of hearing citizens like you would want members of your family treated.

Individuals should show proven ability to be interpreters, especially those who get consideration for their services. The Legislature can have the Commission For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing act as a regulating agency. Give them power and staff to investigate and punish those who fail to meet the statute’s minimum standards.

CRS 26-21-102 is a legislative declaration requiring Colorado to provide protection under the federal American With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). It probably includes future revisions even though not stated in the state statute. Spelling out serious offenses without referring to a federal law simply by title is always wise. The most recent statute revision is Senate Bill 144 of 2009 by Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas and Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada. It skips over mention of discipline.

One criminal and civil offense statute is CRS 6-1-707 dealing with the claim of certification by someone who presently lacks a current certification “issued by the registry of interpreters for the deaf.”

Present federal and state regulation covers interpreters under education statutes or under court matters, but no discipline is listed. The general public of deaf and hard of hearing persons also deserves protection even though not included in education or court matters. The Dept. of Regulatory Agencies has language for discipline in most regulated occupations.

CRS 22-20-102 refers to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 2004, which does include the words “as amended.” And state charter schools as defined in 22-20-103 are included. CRS 22-20-116 does refer to minimum standards for interpreters for deaf in public schools. Amendments for standards could go beyond those referred to, presently under the Commission For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and beyond those provided by rules of the State Board of Education.

According to the most recent DORA reviews, the state has 203 certified sign language interpreters, most of who were certified through a program created under the federal ADA act. That program defined “minimum competence” as the ability to interpret both receptively and expressively, putting words into sign and sign back into words. But outside of (1) courts, or (2) public school interpreters or (3) use of “title,” not earned, such as “certified,” the deaf and hard of hearing are subject to potential phonies out to entice payment that might be for worthless activity.

The organization seeking certification for all interpreters is the Colorado Association For the Deaf and they claim 500 uncertified interpreters in Colorado. Since 2004 there has been a National Interpreter Certification test and passage of the NIC test should be a requirement for interpreters seeking title protection.

Nearby states presently regulate all interpreters: Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico. Arizona requires national certification under the Registry of Interpreters (RID) that includes passage of the NIC test in order for an interpreter to be paid for services. Only Wyoming does not regulate interpreters.

American Sign Language is the native language for thousands in this state and ASL interpreters have been trying for regulation since 1991. Is ADA approval the answer? Certainly the number of qualified professionals will be increased and possibly unqualified interpreters will be out of business and subject to malpractice especially if they receive consideration for their acts.

DORA’s task is to provide regulation where the “market fails to act logically.” There is additional cost for those seeking to be certified but no additional cost to the state, which can charge the amount needed to cover oversight. It is important for the state to be able to indicate which interpreters have shown at least minimum competence. There can be a certified listing updated as necessary and available to the public. Colorado should at the least copy Arizona’s approach.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.