UF’s Disability Resource Center is looking to hire up to four full-time American Sign Language interpreters, which would mean the university would have more full-time interpreters than any other school in the state.
Hiring full-time interpreters is a change for the university, which has been using contract companies and hiring ASL interpreters on a part-time, as-needed basis, said Jenna Gonzalez, the DRC’s interim director.
“I hope this really, really shows the level at which we are willing to go at UF and what we can provide and what we will provide,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview. “It’s not just about a law. It comes from the work we do at UF and what we want to offer.”
Unlike other schools in larger cities in the state, UF doesn’t have the same population of potential interpreters to draw upon, and some of the contract interpreters may drive as much as two hours to get to the school, according to the DRC.
The full-time interpreters will aid deaf and hard of hearing students with their classes and translation at some UF events. Gonzalez said the need for interpretation services keeps growing.
Hiring full-time interpreters means that students will be able to get to work one-on-one with the same interpreters, she said.
“Students can really get to know these interpreters,” Gonzalez said. “[With contracted services] different interpreters can come at different times, and we don’t always get a say in that.”
Eric Shear, a UF graduate student who is deaf and for whom ASL was his first language, said the rapport between deaf people and their ASL interpreters is important.
“Someone who knows the student will always do a better job of interpreting than someone who’s a complete stranger,” Shear said in an email interview. “Everyone has their own signing ‘accent,’ and having the same person there every time reduces the chances of misunderstanding.”
Shear is studying for a second master’s degree in chemical engineering and plans to join the department’s doctoral program. His interest in life support systems and resource utilization for space travel prompted him to pick UF to work with Dr. Ranga Narayanan, a chemical engineering professor in the Wertheim College of Engineering.
Since COVID-19 pushed many classes online, UF has been providing Shear with captioned videos of professors’ lectures, but Shear uses two interpreters for a four-hour lab course. Both interpreters attend the lab and switch out every 20 minutes.
Shear said in an email interview that he prefers the captioned videos for lecture classes that require a lot of notetaking. He is able to pause the videos and catch up with the notetaking as needed. But with in-person lab classes, he said he would rather have interpreters.
During his previous schooling, Shear had only used interpreters for courses. The Washington state native said he likes that UF offers him the opportunity to choose the best option for each course.
“My GPA at UF, especially since we shifted to remote learning during the COVID crisis, is almost a full letter grade higher than at my previous schools,” he said. “I credit this to increased learning retention due to me taking better notes as a result of the recorded videos available at UF. My previous schools did not offer this. They only used interpreters as a one-size-fits-all solution for their deaf students.”
Shear said he also thinks having full-time ASL interpreters will help him make more of his out-of-class experiences at UF.
While Shear prefers to use interpreters in lab sources, Lindsi Baugher, a civil engineering freshman, said she hopes to use interpreters for courses taught in large lecture classrooms. The Ocala native has a cochlear implant, which detects sounds and converts them into electrical impulses the brain can interpret.
Although her accommodations allow her to sit on the front row, classes in large lecture halls are harder for her to follow. In a Zoom interview she said she’s more comfortable with an ASL interpreter.
Even though she has closed captioning of her current classes, which are all online, the services sometimes do make mistakes and can fall behind the class discussion, but she says she likes to be able to review the transcript later.
She expects to use both captioning services and interpreters when she returns to classrooms in the fall. She’s looking forward to not having to take 500-person classes over Zoom.
“It’s kind of hard for me to kind of interact with people on screen, because it’s not the same as in-person,” she said.
The job posting for DRC’s new ASL interpreters is open until Sunday at 11:55 p.m.
Gonzalez, the interim director, said the DRC is looking for “a life-long learner” for these interpretation positions.
“I am looking for someone who is very excited and enthusiastic about being here,” she said. “And flexibility is going to be really important.”