Students, interpreters collaborate to enhance understanding of ASL

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A. Sue Weisler

Recent RIT/NTID graduate Bryan Ward was one of the first American Sign Language consultants hired for the new program. Here, he talks with Sandra Bradley, an instructor in NTID’s American Sign Language and Interpreting Education Department, about ways to keep the program at the leading edge of teaching new technical terminology.

Wayne “Kip” Webster feels a sense of pride when partnerships flourish. In addition to managing the interpreting team at NTID’s Department of Access Services, he is the creative force behind a new program that matches the best student signers with professional interpreters to further enhance understanding and accuracy.

The American Sign Language consultancy program encourages deaf students at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf to work hand-in-hand with professional interpreters at NTID’s Department of Access Services. The goal is to help the students gain valuable on-the-job experience and cover college expenses while teaching the interpreters best practices when signing complicated and highly technical terminology that is often used in classrooms.

“It occurred to me that there are some fantastic signers among our deaf students, and they could become ASL consultants for my team,” said Webster. “When I told our deaf students that I wanted to hire the best ASL users, names came in quickly.”

Student consultants and access services staff members meet individually to discuss the constant evolution of language and new terms and discoveries that are introduced regularly. It’s the job of the ASL consultants to work in partnership with access services staff members to ensure consistency and accuracy of language.

“Interpreters love the opportunity to partner with expert signers who are willing to learn about the role and work of interpreting,” Webster added. “The consultants bring ASL skills, content knowledge from their majors, and share their experience of using interpreters in their lives at RIT/NTID and prior to coming here. It’s been a great experience for all involved.”

Webster continues to utilize student workers to manage scheduling and also hired Sandra Bradley, instructional/support faculty in NTID’s American Sign Language and Interpreting Education Department, to help the ASL consultants develop methods for effective teaching.

A lab in the Department of Access Services is open for staff who need answers to quick questions or meet-ups with consultants, but there are times when the best approach to learning unique signs is simply to be immersed in the subject material.

Eric Epstein, a software engineering student from Tucson, Ariz., and ASL consultant, was asked by an interpreter to explain concepts in computer programming. Epstein took the interpreter to a lab in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences and actually taught the interpreter how to write a program.

“Eric’s teaching, delivered in his amazing ASL skills, was crystal clear to the interpreter—and her program worked,” Webster says. “Our interpreter’s translations of computer programming now are enriched by Eric’s modeling of how to program in ASL. This kind of partnership could not be better—and everyone is enriched by this collaboration.”