Lawmakers consider creating new licensing board for sign language interpreters

Lawmakers consider creating new licensing board for sign language interpreters

There aren’t enough sign language interpreters to meet the demand in Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin Association of the Deaf.

But members of the deaf community say Assembly Bill 589 could begin to help solve that problem. The bill would change the way sign language interpreters are licensed.

The Committee on Jobs and the Economy heard from members of the public on the bill Thursday morning.

“My life depends on interpreters,” said Katy Schmidt, president of the Wisconsin Association of the Deaf. “If the interpreter is not able to interpret correctly, it can have a very negative effect on my ability to communicate.”

Currently, interpreters are licensed by the Department of Safety and Professional Services. But the measure, which has broad support from the deaf community, would create a new state licensing board made up of interpreters and people who are deaf.

“The deaf community has been ignored to the point that there is no one who is deaf or hard of hearing on the board,” said Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), one of the bill’s co-authors.

The Sign Language Interpreters Examining Board, as the new board would be called, would be use a tiered system. Only the most advanced interpreters could practice in “high risk” situations, in which a deaf person’s life was at risk: the emergency room, doctor’s offices, incarceration or natural disasters.

“The verbiage that’s used in medical situations is so complicated and it can affect whether that person lives or dies,” Schmidt said.

Members of the Department of Health Services raised concerns about the measure, saying they believe it could lead to less-experienced interpreters.

“We’re concerned that the proposed changes in AB 589 could inadvertently reduce the quality of sign language interpreters in our state, undoing the years of work that went into the current licensure system,” said Amber Mullett, who coordinates the department’s services for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

But Schmidt said interpreters aren’t perfect, and the tiered system would give less experienced ones the chance to increase their skill set.