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Indian River considers how to accommodate deaf parents

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Everyone learns and communicates at different rates and in different ways. For the deaf or hearing impaired, communication needs to be established for everyone to understand and enjoy the world around them.

At Indian River Central School, the Board of Education questioned how it could adequately ensure services for any deaf or hearing impaired parent or community member after the absence of an interpreter at a school event left one parent unable to enjoy her child’s performance. School Superintendent James Kettrick said the district needs significant notice to ensure a sign-language interpreter is available or to adopt a policy to strictly accommodate through electronic interpreting devices.

“There is a small deaf community here and they want to be heard,” Samuel Weintraub said at the Indian River Central School board meeting Jan. 9.

Mr. Weintraub was speaking on behalf of his wife, Christy, who, Mr. Weintraub told the board, felt left out of the festivities when her son received an acknowledgement at a school event earlier this school year and a sign language interpreter wasn’t provided.

Mr. Kettrick said that since the event, he had spoken to Mr. Weintraub and they concluded it was because of miscommunication that the district didn’t provide an interpreter for the event. Two questions were raised: how could the situation be avoided in the future, and could a policy be put in place to make sure the needs of everyone can be met at most school events.

“A notice needs to be submitted in advance and it can take up to two weeks to make sure we can get an interpreter,” Mr. Kettrick said.

For a student who is hearing impaired or deaf, services are provided through the special education department. Services for community members are to be handled by the district offices.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, establishments such as medical providers, government agencies, private organizations, courthouse/jails, public entities and private or public schools are responsible for providing communication access for people with disabilities. It is not the responsibility of the disabled person to pay for accommodations.

Districts can provide interpretation in a variety of ways, including the use of an interpreter, voice-to-text technology or someone typing out for the person as people talk.

“We want to find a solution so we can be both consistent and compliant,” Mr. Kettrick said.

For a single meeting, Mr. Kettrick said, an interpreter was hired at $175 an hour. In the agreement, the interpreter was compensated for an hour of travel both there and back and for three hours for the meeting. Services are paid for from the school’s general fund.

Mr. Weintraub said the preferred method of interpretation for his wife was the use of a human interpreter over technology programs because if there is a lag, she feels there is an even greater disconnect between her and what’s going on.

It is the district’s policy always to provide an interpreter for parent-teacher conferences. Student performances, he said, are a gray area.

Mr. Weintraub said school districts are supposed to provide audio aid for assemblies and concerts.

“That to me was unacceptable. We were just 20 miles down the road at Watertown and she was able to get interpreters for every single event,” Mr. Weintraub said. “Question is, if this was determined to be nonessential, who is deciding what is essential?”

For people who are hearing impaired, meaning they have some but not full hearing, sound field devices that attach a microphone to those speaking and provide headphones for the individual can amplify voices for those who need to hear, said Mary E. Compo, the Committee on Special Education chairwoman for Lowville Academy and Central School.

“For the public, we have a personal listening device for the people who need help. It connects through the sound system,” Mrs. Compo said.

She said she agrees it is proactive to raise the question about what sort of policy should be followed to accommodate everyone.

At Potsdam Central School, Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said the district adopted a policy, reviewed and revised in May, that says the district will provide an interpreter for planning meetings and similar events.

“There is a form for parents who need an interpreter or special services available so they can file a request,” Mr. Brady said. “At the time of review, we were fortunate to have the advice of one of our parents who is a certified interpreter. She assisted us in updating the policy as well as identifying certified interpreters in our region who could provide services on an as-needed basis.”

Mr. Brady said the services are provided through private contractors who have their own fee schedules.

“We have not received a request for an interpreter in many years, so there is not a line in the budget allocated specifically for such services,” Mr. Brady said. “If an occasion arose where an interpreter was needed, we would take the money out of our general fund.”

Paulette S. Whalen, reading specialist and teacher for the deaf and hearing impaired at Potsdam Central School, said there are different levels of deafness or hearing loss, and each person’s needs should be addressed individually.

“Deafness is like eyesight. There are varying degrees of limitations,” Mrs. Whalen said.

She said she experienced hearing loss at a young age and has a parent who was hearing impaired.

“I am able to empathize with my students. I was lucky my hearing was surgically corrected,” Mrs. Whalen said.

Mr. Weintraub said the most important thing is for services to be provided consistently for his wife for the benefit of his entire family. He said his family will make sure to file the appropriate request as far in advance as possible if the district can continue to provide communication services.

“A 6-year-old is very proud he got an award and his mother didn’t know why he was getting an award,” Mr. Weintraub said. “Sign language is a beautiful language and a beautiful culture. It’s easier and faster to communicate for my wife, and we’re asking to help solve this issue.”

For more information about interpretive services policies, go to http://wdt.me/hearing.

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