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Making the deaf heard

July 28, 2007

WorkForce Solutions addresses the need for more interpreters 

Alex Jones/The Monitor

Attorney Faye Kuo, speaks with the aid of sign language to an audience at WorkForce Solutions in Edinburg on Friday morning about the rights of the deaf in the workplace.

By Julian Cavazos

Like a lot of students, Abraham Hernandez sometimes thought class was a waste of time.

He may have been right.

“I feel that if the interpreter doesn’t show up, it’s a waste of my time,” he said in sign language through an interpreter.

“I just do my best and try to read lips.”

Hernandez is one of the 8,000 Rio Grande Valley residents who are either deaf, hard of hearing or hearing impaired. There are only 49 certified interpreters to help them communicate.

WorkForce Solutions held a seminar in McAllen on Friday addressing the need for more interpreters.

Representatives from businesses, hospitals, schools and organizations, as well as deaf individuals, attended the event.

“It makes it difficult for people to accomplish any training, employment, or doing the activities of daily living,” said Jayshree “Jay” Bhat, WorkForce disability program navigator.

“Anything requiring them to be in a public place, they lack communication.”

The seminar’s main speaker, Faye Kuo, is a deaf rights attorney for Advocacy Inc.

Kuo, who is also deaf, is one of only two attorneys for the deaf in Texas.

“I was made fun of as kind for the way I talked,” Kuo said. “I developed a passion for others to understand the need (for interpreters), and meeting that need.”

The number of interpreters has increased over the years, but still remains small.

“Ten years ago, we didn’t have that many,” said Sonia Quintero, deafness resource specialist for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. “Now we do, but we still need more.”

At The University of Texas- Pan American, a bachelors program for rehabilitation majors has been in place for about 10 years. South Texas College has no similar program available.

But those who graduate in rehabilitation and become certified aren’t staying in the Valley.

One reason is because of the low salary, said Cynthia Alaniz, a local interpreter.

“Down here in the Valley, interpreters start at a salary of about $9 an hour,” Alaniz said.

“But in places like San Antonio or Austin, you can earn $25 or $30 an hour.”

For now, interpretation agencies in the Valley are pushing recruitment efforts to alleviate the strong demand.

“Maybe provide more training with incentives to work,” Quintero said.

Julian Cavazos covers general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4474. For this and other stories, visit www.themonitor.com.


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