Deaf and Deaf-Blind individuals served by vocational rehabilitation receive a wide range of services, all geared toward assisting individuals with transitioning from school to work and/or gaining additional work-related skills and knowledge as changes in jobs and industries transpire. Employment as an interpreter in a state VR agency provides opportunities for ongoing collaboration with other professionals employed by the agency, and the potential to be part of a team-based approach to serving deaf/hard of hearing individuals.
Interpreters working in this setting report that most of their assignments are related to employment placement; postsecondary/vocational training; employment preparation, and career assessment settings (NCIEC, 2010). For those interpreters working as employees of a state VR agency, they are also often trained as job coaches as a second level responsibility to interpreting, thereby allowing the interpreter to develop additional skills and proficiencies.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services agencies report a shortage of qualified and certified interpreters to work in this setting (NCIEC, 2009). This shortage is the result of a range of factors, but includes a lack of specialized training for individuals seeking work in this setting. As well, the use of video relay and video remote interpreting is being used more frequently to increase access to qualified interpreting services.
The competencies of interpreters working in this setting include the ability to work effectively with Deaf and Deaf-Blind individuals with secondary disabilities and/or with limited language proficiency. Work in VR settings often involves assignments with consumers that are either immigrants or have parents that were immigrants and are not acculturated. As a result, the deaf consumer and/or their family members are not English proficient and sometimes come from countries where there was no formal education for deaf individuals. As well, family members may need spoken language interpreters. There are often language and cultural nuances present that make interpreting very complex.
Certified Deaf Interpreters are often be the best qualified to work with certain VR deaf/hard of hearing consumers, particularly deaf/ hard of hearing VR consumers with secondary disabilities and/or limited language proficiency. However, there is a severe shortage of Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) and/or many interpreters do not know how to collaborate effectively with CDIs. Therefore, interpreters working in this setting must be fluent in both American Sign Language and English, be able to adapt their language and interpreting performance to a wide range of consumers, and have the ability to effectively team with Deaf interpreters.
Interpreters in this setting must also have a broad understanding of the VR system and how it operates, including knowledge of the world of work and a wide range of jobs in different settings. They must have the ability to work collaboratively with a wide range of professionals in meeting the unique needs of VR clients. Add to this the need to be able to deliver competent interpreting services through distance technologies and it is easy to understand the complexities of working in this setting.
There are also a significant number of deaf individuals who work within professional capacities within the VR system. This includes State Coordinators of services to the Deaf, VR counselors who are deaf and a range of other VR professionals. The role of the interpreter in working with these professionals differs from the general work of interpreters in a number of ways— the interpreter for the deaf professional seeks to make decisions that maximize the deaf professional’s ability to immerse him- or herself into and effectively navigate the workplace. As a result, interpreters must possess advanced knowledge of the VR system and state government, and be able to build the social relationships necessary to successfully interpret for professional work teams in action.
Gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to be effective in working with a wide range of deaf VR clients and/or deaf professionals working within the VR system, requires a strong foundation in interpreting and a period of supervised work experience, as evidenced by generalist certification as an interpreter. At the present time, there is no specialized certification for interpreters who work in this setting, but specialized training is highly recommended.
Cokely, D. & E. Winston (2009). Vocational Rehabilitation Needs Assessment Final Report. National Consortium of Interpreter Education.
Winston, E. (2010). Vocational Rehabilitation Interpreter Practitioner Interview Findings. National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers.