The bill would create a state licensing board specifically for sign language interpreters for the first time.
That board would designate licenses based on the interpreters’ level of skill and experience. Representative Joel Kleefisch is one of the of the bill’s authors. He says having an interpreter with the right level of experience is crucial.
“This is long overdue,” Kleefisch says. “We are talking about the difference in some cases about the difference between life and death.”
Those in the deaf and hard of hearing community say it’s not uncommon to struggle with getting their message across or understanding others, even in places like doctors offices and emergency rooms.
Wisconsin Association of the Deaf’s Katie Voss said at yesterday’s news conference to introduce the bill that interpreters are vital for her and other in just about every aspect of life.
“Unfortunately there are many loopholes in our current bill … where situations go awry because of unqualified interpreters,” Voss says.
The bill would divide interpreters into tiers. An interpreter in a higher tier could practice in higher risk situations, like emergency rooms or courts, but someone in a lower tier wouldn’t be able to.
Stephanie Zito is a professional interpreter and helped lawmakers craft the bill.
“The new law is going to get interpreters back to work and improves how we match an interpreters knowledge and skill level in critical settings, such as legal, mental health, medical settings,” Zito says.
Cookie Roang with the Wisconsin Association for the Deaf described through an interpreter a recent experience she had where she wasn’t able to get appropriate interpreting services. At a recent audiology appointment, the doctor used a remote interpreter — someone in another state who was video called in. Connectivity was bad and that interpreter wasn’t licensed in the state of Wisconsin.
Roang’s daughters are also deaf.
“It’s important for my daughters as they grow up that they have access to qualified interpreters in the state of Wisconsin,” Roang says.
The board the bill would create would be made up of both interpreters and deaf people. That board would have the ability to investigate fraudulent interpreters and take away licenses.