Shortage of Sign Language Interpreters in Coastal Bend

Countless people rely on sign-language interpreters. Many places are required by law to provide them, but there aren't nearly enough to fill the need.

The shortage is most serious inside hospitals, when a deaf or hard of hearing patient needs urgent care.

We have 30 qualified sign language interpreters here in our area. They are responsible for more than 20 counties, so between drive-time and high demand, sometimes it takes hours before an interpreter is available.

When one is needed, the local Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center calls on their volunteers. Most of them have full-time jobs, so they're not available around the clock.

Driscoll Children's Hospital calls in an interpreter 6-10 times a month, and the need can vary; but regardless, the patient being able to communicate with their doctor is vital, especially in life or death situations.

"It's very important that they understand them trying to convey discharge instructions, medical outcome, plan of care, etc.," said Evelyn Ferrer of Driscoll Children's Hospital.

Del Mar College offers a two-year program for people who are interested in becoming an interpreter. Not only does the job pay well, but there are thousands available; but only about 3-5 people complete the program per year, and most of them move away.

"It's not an easy skill to learn a new language, and a skill you never used in your everyday life," said Lucy James, assistant professor at Del Mar College. "Many others don't like the sign language and figure they want to go into something else."

Starting pay for interpreters is more than $20 an hour. That is after completing the two-year program and passing the state exam.


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