Seattle Central Community College Weighs Axing Its American Sign Language Interpreter-Training Program

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Due to the brutalizing state budget just passed by legislators, Seattle Central Community College must cut approximately $4 million in spending. A number of worthy programs face possible elimination, and college President Paul Killpatrick has vowed to listen to feedback at a public meeting today at 4 p.m. at Broadway Performance Hall. Among those hoping for a huge turnout are supporters of an American Sign Language interpreter-training program, the only one of its kind in the state.

The college has said the program has a number of weaknesses, including "less than 50 percent job placement" among its graduates, according to a report.

"That's not true," says Brenda Aron, one of two teachers in the program, herself communicating with SW through a phone-video ASL interpreting service. She and others have been frantically surveying recent graduates in response to the criticism. "Most say it's easy to find work," she says. In fact, Aron says local agencies have told her there aren't enough ASL interpreters to fill the need.

People who are deaf and blind have it especially rough, Aron says. SCCC students volunteer their services for such people, using a method of tactile ASL that involves signing into hands. But each deaf-blind person only gets six hours of free interpreting a month. "Imagine if they need to go food shopping, or to the bank," Aron says.

There is one other local program that offers ASL interpreter-training, in Spokane, but it is only for people who plan to work in schools, according to Aron. SCCC's program, which currently has 48 students, also trains interpreters for medical, legal, and community settings. The nearest other such program is in Portland, Aron says.

SCC? spokesperson Laura Mansfield points out that an organization offering accreditation to such programs, called the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education, now requires that students get a four-year degree, something the community college can't offer.

Aron, however, says that the commission doesn't require that students have a B.A. in interpreting. Many students come to her program with a four-year degree already under their belt, looking to jump-start a new career. That's always been the forte of the community-college system--at least until this year's devastating budget cuts. Other programs that might face the axe train students in apparel design, opticianry, and film and video.

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