The primary function of a sign language interpreter in a school environment is to help those who are deaf and hard of hearing understand what is being said. This is done through American Sign Language (ASL) and is an important role in every school district. One of the most important skills a sign language interpreter can have is how seamlessly they can understand what is being said and translate it for the student. This takes years of practice and is not uncommon for many interpreters to have grown up using sign language in some fashion. While most traditional universities don't offer a sign language degree, there are still classes, programs, and certifications that are offered.
Deciding on a Sign Language Interpreter Program
The interesting thing about working as a sign language interpreter in schools is that many states do not require you to have a degree. However, this is changing, and it is becoming more common to see sign language interpreter openings require a two-year associate's degree or bachelor's degree. As mentioned previously, this degree does not have to be in sign language, but it helps if the applicant has completed an ASL program or series of classes.
Top Sign Language Interpreter Schools
If you are interested in receiving a degree specifically in sign language interpretation, several schools offer programs. Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. is considered a bilingual and ASL school, focused on both verbal and signed interpretation. They offer a Master of Arts in Interpretation. The Institute for Applied Linguistics at Kent State University is known for its language programs as well, including ASL.
After you graduate, receive your degree, and are ready to work inside a school you must complete the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA), an exam that consists of a written and signing portion. Every state requires a sign language interpreter who wants to work inside the classroom to complete this exam, but it varies from state-to-state on what is considered a passing score.
The Registry of Interpreter for the Deaf (RID) offers one of the highest levels of certification for sign language interpreters. Some states require you to hold a RID certification before you begin providing interpretation. Underneath the RID umbrella, there are two certifications that you can currently receive. Some certifications have been retired but they are still valid if you hold them. The National Association of the Deaf also offers several certifications that are recognized by the RID as well.