Idaho State University (ISU) researcher and clinical associate professor for sign language interpreting Elizabeth Schniedewind recently received a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through its Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). The funding, which will be released over the course of five years, will support both ISU and Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. The goal is to train sign language interpreters to improving the experience and patient care of the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing individuals in health care settings around the United States.
The story begins when Schniedewind started her doctoral research project in 2020. At this time, she discovered that there were many issues surrounding health care access for deaf individuals. The project consisted of three parts. The first involved studying complaints filed with the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Idaho CDHH) regarding lack of interpreter provision in health care settings. Next, Schniedewind conducted a nationwide survey of deaf patients regarding access to health care, and then completed an Idaho-based audit study that simulated patients who can hear and patients who are deaf, calling random primary care and general dentistry providers in Idaho to ask for a new patient appointment. Deaf patients asked for a sign language interpreter to be provided for the appointment as well, which is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The findings exposed discrimination when accessing health care, and a subpar communication experience, which included the provision of unqualified interpreters.
“The idea came about as a result of the experiences with barriers to care routinely encountered by deaf patients,” shared Schniedewind. “I have limited personal knowledge of this experience, as I have deaf family members, and securing services has been a challenge.”
Schniedewind, along with her colleague Campbell McDermid at Gallaudet University, have begun strategizing and working on how they can change how deaf people access health care, so they too can have a quality and fair experience. Together, the team is working on creating a curriculum for sign language interpreters to receive additional specialty training for health care settings. They are also researching the provision of sign language interpreting via video and are partnering with state agencies for the deaf and hard of hearing in six states. Here, they are working to recruit interpreters for the project and are establishing relationships to share their knowledge and experience with the needs of deaf patients. The piloting of the curriculum, with a cohort of 15 interpreters, will begin this September and run through April 2023. They will also offer in-person mentoring for part of that time. In the spring of 2023, they will also release a pilot online curriculum for free.
“We will continue to refine both the cohort and online curricula throughout the remaining years of the grant, which ends in September of 2026,” said Schniedewind. “Because the grant required the training be provided only to interpreters who are currently working (e.g. those that could use it as professional development), and that we provide the training in three non-contiguous states throughout the U.S., Idaho CDHH and ISU determined that the states that would train interpreters would not specifically include Idaho, as ISU has offered professional development to interpreters in health care settings previously.”
ISU has a long history of providing quality training for interpreters. In fact, it has offered a four-year degree program in sign language interpreting for more than two decades.
“We are one of a small number of programs that are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education and have deep roots and partnerships with the Idaho deaf community,” explained Schniedewind. “Because our program is located within the Kasiska Division of Health Sciences, we have a unique opportunity to leverage the resources found in this well-equipped health care program. The RSA grants have been in place to promote employment of people with disabilities via interpreter education and training for more than 20 years as well. The RSA recognizes the need in Idaho and other states for deaf patients who are also participants in vocational rehabilitation programs to have equitable access to health care.”d