by Marcia Sarnowski
As a result of the WRLS 2008 LSTA grant for library services to seniors with special needs, we have been working at helping our libraries and their services be as accessible as possible. One area ripe for review is the process for engaging sign language interpretation services when they are requested by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.
If the library has never been asked to provide an interpreter for a program or a meeting, it’s likely not because there are no deaf or hard of hearing persons in the community. According to the Wisconsin plan for serving adults with special needs http://dpi.wi.gov/pld/specialasn.html, “More people have a hearing loss than any other disability.”
As noted in the companion plan Youth with Special Needs: A Resource and Planning Guide for Wisconsin Public Libraries (c2007) http://dpi.wi.gov/pld/ysnpl.html, “If requested, the library must provide a sign language interpreter for programs and meetings held at the library at no cost to the patron. This is required by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).” In other words, it’s the law.
Libraries may be daunted by the requirement to arrange this service, yet patrons who need it are entitled to qualified interpretation for effective communication. Qualified interpreters must achieve and maintain rigorous certification standards, after study and testing. It should not be expected that a person who knows a little bit of sign language can substitute for a skilled interpreter.
Interpreter services can be arranged through the Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/sensory/, which is part of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. There is much helpful information on their web site, including tips for working with an interpreter, a list of agencies that can assist libraries in scheduling qualified interpreters, and a list of freelance interpreters in Wisconsin (“Interpreter Directory”), arranged by county http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/sensory/Interpreting/InterpretingFP.htm.
It is common for interpreters scheduled through an agency to charge for a minimum of two hours of service (whether or not a program lasts that long), with travel time and expenses added to the fee, which will be established by the agency. Freelance interpreters may set their own rates for services. I spoke with an interpreter in the La Crosse area recently and asked for an idea of her rates, and she responded that $35 per hour is a reasonable amount to use, for estimating services costs. If a library chooses to work with a freelance interpreter, fees should be discussed and agreed upon in advance of the event.
There are options for assembling a list of qualified interpreters in your area. Check with local or regional institutions which routinely employ interpreters, such as the school district or health services organizations. They may be able to direct you to interpreters who live nearby and do not need to charge for long distance travel costs. Libraries should identify a line in the budget from which interpreter costs could be paid, in case they are necessary. However, some service organizations may be interested in providing assistance with funding the costs, especially for children who need these services. Take the time to contact them, and ask if this need matches their mission.
The two Wisconsin special needs plans are excellent sources of information for steps you can take to make the library more accessible and welcoming to persons with hearing disabilities, including tips for reaching out to this population. Be prepared to handle a request for an interpreter, before you receive one. Make sure staff members know the process for offering a timely and professional response to this request. This will show your community the library really is committed to communicating effectively with its public, and ensuring that as many citizens as possible can enjoy its services.
(Originally published January 2009.)