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New law creates licensure for sign language interpreters



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June 23, 2010 | 07:25 AM
Consider this. Your doctor is explaining a serious medical concern with you, one which may affect you for the rest of your life, and providing detailed information and advice to deal with it. Then consider this: you can't hear anything the doctor is saying. Thus, your only link to the hearing world is an interpreter.

Faced with this scenario, you would expect that individual to have the appropriate level of training to communicate that vital information to you, but have no assurance they do.

Sign language interpreters are a vital link between the deaf and hard of hearing individual and the rest of society, but many people do not know of the different levels and skills required to provide this service. A concern was brought to my attention a few years ago from key members of the deaf community who believed a level of competency and licensure by the state was necessary in order to create a minimum standard of quality for this vital service. Working together over the last three legislative sessions, we were able to craft a reasonable solution to this concern and see it signed into law last month.

Under prior law, Wisconsin had no minimum qualification requirements for sign language interpreters. However, with the enactment of Senate Bill 389 — which is now 2009 Wisconsin Act 360 — sign language interpreters who provide their service for compensation will be required to attain a minimum standard of proficiency in this regard, and be licensed by the state.

While most interpreters in Wisconsin are highly qualified, there may be some who currently do not have the necessary skills to provide this very important service without additional training.

A number of exemptions to licensure were created under the law, including court and educational interpreters, support service providers, interpreters in religious settings, and individuals who provide interpretation services in the course of their employment during an emergency, such as a police officer or a firefighter.

In addition, a Sign Language Interpreter Council is also created to assist the Department of Regulation and Licensing as it implements the provisions of the law, and to provide special circumstance exemptions in situations where the Council believes an exemption is needed. We took great care to create exemptions in the law that are practical in order to provide a reasonable timeframe for those who wish to become licensed by the state. But issues may arise over time where more scrutiny in needed in regards to the exemptions and the Council will be the permanent entity to deal with those issues.

As the author of this new law, I am grateful to those in the deaf community who actively participated in the passage of this legislation and remained vigilant to see it through both Houses of the Legislature and eventually to the Governor's desk. As my Senate district includes the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan — the only one of its kind in the state — it gave me great pride to act on their behalf and afford them the same rights that we who are able to hear may take for granted.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI, 53707-7882, or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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