ASL degree?
November 22, 2011 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Is a degree in ASL really necessary?

I'm currently a music composition major and am considering switching to American Sign Language. My question is, is it necessary or at least recommended that one complete a bachelors degree in ASL in order to find employment in the fieled or is simply getting a certification good enough or just as good? Honestly, my biggest passion is still music but I figure that a career in signing would be a more practical and interesting fallback plan where I can more tangibly give back to the community. I say this assuming that interpreters are always in demand. Is that true? I was also considering just finishing my major in music composition (which I love studying) and then do a two year program at a community college. What do ya'll think? Thanks for reading everyone.
posted by tunestunes to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, here's a recent job posting from the disability resource center here on my campus. I'd guess that kind of employment is fairly typical. We have a lead interpreter and 14 hourly interpreters.

Are you familiar with captioned interpreting? I had never seen it until I had a deaf woman in my class. She wasn't culturally Deaf so she didn't know sign language, and she had live captioners who basically typed everything on a laptop in front of her. On our campus we have two lead captioners and seven hourlies. (Here's our staff list in that area; you can go from there to see how their services work.)

So don't assume that every interpreting job you might find will involve ASL. There may be situations where captioning and ASL are combined. You may also specialize -- for example, I know of several ASL translators who specialize in theater.

The people in your ASL program should be able to advise you on job opportunities in the field. If they don't, they're not a very good department :P
posted by Madamina at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2011

Do you just want to interpret? If so, look at your own state's requirements. My state, Louisiana, requires national certification for most interpreting, but I'm pretty Florida still doesn't have any requirements at all. The interpreter that usually works with out clinic with has a degree in art, not ASL - and she's very good and highly sought after. She does have her certification through EIPA.
posted by honeydew at 10:14 AM on November 22, 2011

It probably depends on where you live/work, but I don't believe that a degree is necessary in order to interpret. However, you will generally need some kind of certification. An acquintance of mine is hoping to make a career shift into ASL interpreting and she has to take a 2-year college diploma program* so that she will actually be taken seriously as a candidate when applying for interpretation jobs.

*Not a degree; college and university are not the same thing in Canada.
posted by asnider at 10:42 AM on November 22, 2011

I don't know from certification, do know that there are jobs at concerts where you can interpret songs for people, right? That sounds right up your alley on both levels. Plus, awesome. I love watching interpreters at concerts.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:10 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

It depends on your individual employer and their needs. My sign language interpreter (hired by my high school district) didn't even have a certificate - she failed out of her program twice and the college had a two-time-only policy; they hired her as an "SEA" rather than an full-pledged interpreter because of funding issues, plus they couldn't find anyone with appropriate credentials anyway. Nonetheless, I was impressed enough by her proficiency that I ended up bringing her to my university when I graduated, who recognized her as an interpreter and paid her appropriately.

That being said: given how absolutely rare of a commodity a sign language interpreter can be (especially good and amicable ones), a certificate will set you up for more than enough jobs if work is all you're thinking of doing with your degree.

Beyond that, a lot of deaf people, if they're anything like me, won't care about your educational credentials at all so much as your actual ability. And many of those people will also be the primary decision-maker in whether to give an interpreter a chance or to keep them, so as long as you keep in the good books of your client, you'll have a role.
posted by Conspire at 1:57 PM on November 22, 2011

Certification is the most that any working interpreter I ever met had. My uncle was for a while the only staff member in his district who could do cuing, so he was an official transliterator for a few years and I think his degree is in history.

It helps to think of this as more of a skilled profession - like plumbing, art, music performance (!), baking - than an academic discipline, since what you want to do with it is find work, not pass knowledge on to others or do research. Also, most careers that have minimum requirements of a bachelor's degree (let alone more) are noticeably swamped with people who want to do those things, and as Conspire pointed out, this is so not the case with sign language interpretation. Most hearing people who know ASL well enough to be conversant seem to be related to a deaf person - and many close relatives of the deaf are not conversant in ASL even when that's what their relative uses to communicate most of the time.

Can you minor or do a second concentration in ASL? I ask mainly because there are few people on this planet who've done more than two or three upper-division courses in their current major who I'd tell to switch for anything other than a truly compelling reason.

By the way, rah rah rah Cued Speech yay.
posted by SMPA at 3:24 PM on November 22, 2011

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