Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services of Michigan helps clients find interpreters

Misti Ryefield, left, interprets for Katie Prins, executive director of Michigan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, Friday at the center. Ryefield is a full-time community interpreter for DHHS.

Marty Jansen got up early for a 7 a.m. appointment with his cardiologist. An interpreter, he was told, was on his way.

Sure enough, a spoken Spanish interpreter entered. A nice guy, Jansen recalls, but not much help for a deaf person. “They had no excuse. (Doctor’s office) obviously didn’t look at my form.”

Upcoming Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Events

Community Open House

When: 3-6 p.m. Friday
Or: Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, 4328 Kalamazoo Ave. SE
WHO: DHHS staff will show off their new location and talk about services and events.

“Fill Our Ears With Support”

What: The annual gala with dinner and music aims to raise $40,000 to purchase the center’s new building.
When: 5 to 9 p.m. September 26
Or: Postma Center at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, 300 68th St. SE
WHO: Vic Krause, former state representative and member of the Grand Rapids chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, will speak.
Tickets: $50 per person. Call 732-7358 (videophone 828-0186) or email [email protected]

And then there was the time an interpreter failed to inform Jansen that heart surgery would be uncomfortable. And the time an interpreter misunderstood the meaning of “saline”, a common term in medicine. And the time an interpreter didn’t know the “stress test” sign.

“There were a lot of words she didn’t know,” said Dianne Jansen, Marty’s wife of 46 years, who is also hard of hearing.

Staff at Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services of Michigan hear stories like Jansen’s all the time.

“It’s amazing every day that this still happens,” said Nan Soper, an interpreter orientation specialist at DHHS.

“Most places that call me have no idea what they are required to provide.”

It is not easy to provide qualified interpreters for medical appointments and other purposes. Since 2007, the state has tightened regulation of ASL interpreters by requiring certification. The law applies to public and private entities, including banks, courts, doctors, employers, funeral homes, libraries and schools.

Marty and Dianne Jansen are passionate about helping people with hearing loss access proper medical care and interpreters.

“There is a critical shortage of sign language interpreters in Michigan,” Sheryl Emery, director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Division for the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, wrote via email. from Michigan. As deaf advocates praise the new standards, they also have more work to do to ensure society follows the law. This includes educating workplaces and mobilizing more interpreters.

Michigan ranks seventh nationally with a hearing impaired population of approximately 870,000 people, including more than 90,000 people who are deaf. In the region of the state that includes Kent and Ottawa counties, there are 65 registered interpreters for a deaf population of approximately 11,500 people.

A state study predicts that a gap between supply and demand for interpreters could exist over the next 15 to 20 years. A new certification test is expected to begin this fall, according to Emery.

“Demand is extremely high,” Emery wrote. Katie Prins, executive director of DHHS, uses a videophone to communicate with other deaf people through call centers where interpreters relay signs around the clock. It’s an example of potential employment in the field, said she said through an interpreter.

“We hope more people can see that there are jobs available,” said Prins, 29, who was hired last year to lead DHHS. “The economy is tough here, but we have a niche in the market.”

Angela Grzemkowski, program advisor for Lansing Community College’s sign language program, has heard some of the interpreters’ horror stories, like that of a deaf-blind woman who woke up with a double mastectomy without being current of the operation.

Until 2007, interpreters could work without a state diploma. But the Deaf Person’s Interpreter Act changed that. “We see a lot of second career people,” she said. “The field is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We are happy (with the new standards) just for the sake of these consumers. You should have heard the testimony when this law came into effect. It was just heartbreaking.”

LCC, which has produced half of Michigan’s working performers, graduated 18 students in July and another 34 are entering the program this fall. It takes about two and a half years to complete the course.

Other Michigan schools offer the program, including Baker College, Madonna University, and Mott Community College.

Don’t expect a cake walk

At LCC, students collect 800 panels in the first 16 weeks. But the process is far from glamorous, warns Soper, the referral specialist at DHHS.

“It’s not that easy,” she said. “It’s learning a second language.

The DHHS recommends people take a non-credit sign language course first to whet their appetite. Fall classes at DHHS begin Tuesday.

Without the accompanying signs, the needs of deaf people like Marty Jansen might continue to go unmet.

“It’s kind of like the unknown disability,” said Deb Atwood, DHHS business manager. “You can see people in wheelchairs, but you can’t see a deaf person.”

As a result, a performer’s headache like Marty Jansen’s “happens all the time,” she said. So Jansen and his wife speak out for everyone to hear. “We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Dianne Jansen said.

Email the author of this story: [email protected]

Michael A. May