By Jean F. Andrews
Surrounded by the Acropolis and other stunning Greek monuments, the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf held their 22nd annual conference, titled Educating Diverse Learners; Many Ways, One Goal, on July 6 to July 9, 2015. It was the stage for more than 700 researchers. It was a revitalizing intellectual experience, only to be rounded out – post-conference – with invigorating swims in the salty, green Aegean.
Although the informational load was overwhelming, it was an expansive learning experience. The ICED planners provided a well-thought out research agenda, the conference was organized, the hotel was comfortable and the staff were friendly and helpful.
While coaching a former student in the hotel lobby for her later presentation, I noticed a group of 30 to 40 deaf persons. They were angry over the fact that there were not enough interpreters present. Some were even told they should have brought their own interpreters.
According to Deaf colleagues, such a large Deaf attendance was not anticipated by the ICED planners. And while they had the Herculean task of providing interpretations in international sign (Gestuno) as well as other sign languages from around the world – a most difficult challenge, both economically and pragmatically – still, many Deaf persons were left out of sessions because there were no interpreters. The Deaf scholars had no choice but to use self-advocacy and complain. And the ICED staff responded by soliciting volunteer interpreters during the conference.
Even so, the lack of interpreters has no place at a deaf education conference, regional, national or international. In the U.S., public health and correctional agencies, and even educational institutions, are being whacked with hefty fines for not complying with the ADA, by providing accessible and effective communication, which often includes the use of sign language interpreters.
Preventive action is needed both nationally and internationally. One solution is for conference planners to have a Deaf person introduce every hearing presenter and have a hearing person introduce every Deaf presenter. With both a Deaf and hearing person on center stage for every presentation, this would assist the conference planners in making sure that equal access is provided with sign language interpreters. This would also ensure that every Deaf and hearing researchers’ findings would fall on “Deaf and hearing eyes” and “Deaf and hearing ears.” Expensive, yes, but it is priority #1 if we are to continue to advance in deaf education.
Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist, Department Chair and Professor Emeritus of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.