Changing the Game in Rhode Island's American Sign Language Interpreting Services

By Sara Porcaro | Jul 5, 2022
American Sign Language, Internship, Interpreter, ASL, Deaf, DHOH, Rhode Island, Disabilities
The Perspectives ASL Team

Communication is something often taken for granted in today's world, but the reality is that many people often struggle to get access to it--especially members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. That's why, as of this July, Perspectives' American Sign Language interpreters are bringing their talents beyond Perspectives and directly to their communities, to fill the gaps in communication access wherever Rhode Islanders need it!
"It's so funny," signs Director of DHOH Heather Niedbala. "A long time ago, this felt like a pipe dream--a 'someday' thing that we thought of nearly ten years ago. And without the founding of Perspectives' DHOH department, I don't think we ever would've gotten here, but here we are."

First Steps Towards a New System

For Perspectives' DHOH professionals, the team of American Sign Language interpreters bridges the communication barrier between families, coworkers, and other important figures. It helps individuals we support, too, giving them the necessary accommodations to understand important medical advice from their doctors, advocate for themselves in their jobs and other important meetings, and participate fully in events that are important to them. Yet for many in the DHOH community, the effort to get an ASL interpreter doesn't always go so smoothly.
"Interpreting coordination here in RI does not provide for a Deaf person-centered experience." says Lead Interpreter Heather Anderson. "Rhode Island doesn't have very many ASL interpreters, and so those requesting ASL interpretation often have little choice in the time slots interpreters have available."
The opportunity for Perspectives' ASL interpreting team to extend their range of work appeared when one organization, the Deaf Victims of Crime housed under Tri-County Community Action Agency, began reaching out to the Perspectives interpreting team more frequently. They aimed to leverage Perspectives' positive rapport with local interpreters and the ability to directly book their services, as well as negotiate times that qualified or preferred interpreters were available.
"We do a lot of work with DCYF, and for a while, it was difficult to get interpreters that were a good match for our clients due to scheduling," says Tri-County's Aimee Slezak. "Since I had a relationship with Perspectives and their interpreters already, I trusted I could get what I needed through their team and reached out."

Identifying Problems, Creating Solutions

And so began the work of providing flexible, appropriate interpretation support. Perspectives Corporation's DHOH department, opening the door for what had always been a dream of Heather A. and Heather N.: increasing the access to ASL interpretation in the community as well as to individuals we support. They moved forward and began working with various ASL interpreting contractors--freelance professionals and teams alike--to provide more streamlined, flexible coordination of ASL interpreting services. Now, they're also recruiting interpreters, like Deaf Interpreter Andrew Veith, to fill in gaps in accessibility and provide the highest quality service to their communities possible.
Aimee notes, "There's a struggle to understand the obligation to provide quality communication to DHOH people in a transparent and flexible way. But Perspectives is responsible and reliable when it comes to getting interpreters who match a client's needs; the families I work with have been very happy with Perspectives' consistency and quality."
And Perspectives' ASL interpreting team is also welcoming ASL professionals to come aboard and join the effort, including professionals who are still looking to gain experience to obtain their interpreter screenings or certification--qualifications that RI General Law 5-71 demands. The team strongly believes in balancing interpreters' personal goals with the objective of the Perspectives team, providing a professional space that allows members to pursue their own freelance work alongside the work they do for Perspectives. All should have access to communication, and for the DHOH leadership, this principle comes above all.
"We have some amazing, loyal people on our team," says Heather Anderson, "and they do amazing work, going above and beyond to ensure a requester's needs are met. But we also don't want to take interpreter freedom away. While we have team standards, we make sure interpreters get the support they need and the ability to decide how they structure their time outside of their regular schedule or contracted hours with us."
A day doesn't go by where the professionals of Perspectives Corporation, and especially the professionals of the DHOH department, aren't working hard to not only provide top notch supports for individuals, but quality service to their communities. They're taking the next steps in widening access to ASL interpreters, both through number of interpreters available and in a restructuring of the very way in which requests are filled and accommodated, helping make sure people don't go without the vital access to communication they need. We're rooting for them as they take these next steps, and we're excited to see what the future holds!
And hey: did you know? You can meet our team directly this Friday, 7/8, at Tilted Barn Brewery from 4PM to 8PM. We'll be hosting a Meet and Greet with our ASL interpreting team, and hosting a sign-on event for any interpreters looking to join a workplace full of passion, support, and dedication to the community they serve--so definitely don't miss out!


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