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Sign language regulation will lead to shortage, official says

Sign language regulation will lead to shortage, official says

Dustin Hurst
February 26, 2015
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February 26, 2015

New regulations to restrict the sign language industry will lead to a supply shortage in the market, a state official confirmed Wednesday at the Capitol in Boise.

Steven Snow, administrator for the Idaho Council for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, told lawmakers on the House Health and Welfare Committee the new rule would mean a shortage, but the deficit likely wouldn’t last long.

“There will be an interpreter shortage,” Snow told legislators through his own interpreter. “It will be very temporary.”

Snow expects interpreter supply to rebound and eventually thrive after the deficit ends. He told lawmakers Idaho needs to regulate the industry in the name of public safety.

“The stories I have heard terrify me,” Snow said, telling lawmakers of complaints his office receives about botched sign language translations. “This happens every day.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, urged the panel to support the bill to ensure “accurate communication for this population,” particularly in high stakes arenas like court rooms or medical offices.

Packer’s proposal would also outlaw parents from interpreting for deaf children in emergency rooms, a provision that elicited some concern from lawmakers.

Snow said parents or relatives shouldn’t interpret in high-stakes situations because they often lack the ability to set aside emotion, which can cloud interpretations.

“Parents frequently are not able to communicate medical information to children,” Snow explained. “It takes more than just the ability to sign.”

That provision, he added, aligns Idaho with federal disability regulations, too.

Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, told lawmakers the bill criminalizes ordinary activities, including friends interpreting for friends when buying food, appliances or other consumer goods.

Birnbaum also suggested the regulations would add burdens for Idahoans looking to sign part-time because it would add significant costs and time requirements.

“We are making it harder and harder for people to earn a living,” he said.

License applications could cost as much as $1,000, though Snow said the price would likely be lower. The measure would also charge violators with a misdemeanor. Those who “intentionally subvert regulations,” he added, could face a lawsuit from the state.

Jim Baugh, an advocate from Disability Rights of Idaho, endorsed the plan. “I can tell you from personal experience, the need for this is very great,” he said, telling lawmakers he too has heard horror stories about bad signing.

“That happens every day,” Baugh said.

The measure now heads to the House floor for more consideration.

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