A shortage of sign language interpreters in the region has officials from a local college taking matters into their own hands.
Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead is expanding its American Sign Language program to increase the pool of interpreters in the area.
The Moorhead campus offers a one-year sign language certificate program.
But to become a certified interpreter, students have to go to programs in Devils Lake, N.D., the Twin Cities or Sioux Falls, S.D.
Starting in the fall, MSCTC also will offer the Associate of Applied Science degree in American Sign Language, which is two years of training beyond the certificate.
Moorhead resident Charlie Proefrock, 25, who is deaf, said through an interpreter that he’s glad MSCTC is expanding its program.
“I’m very excited for that because honestly it seems that there are quite a few deaf people here and the community of deaf people is growing,” Proefrock said. “It will be nice to see more interpreters in the area, especially more skilled and certified interpreters.”
There are typically openings for one to three sign language interpreters in Moorhead Public Schools at any given time, said Jill Skarvold, director of learner support services.
Other area schools face a similar shortage of interpreters, and the districts in Fargo and West Fargo often work together to make sure they can serve every student, Skarvold said.
“The program at M State will be very important to the region because there really is a shortage of qualified ASL interpreters,” Skarvold said.
Schools aren’t the only places where interpreters are needed.
Members of the deaf community depend on interpreters for medical appointments, court hearings, church services and business meetings, said Kristi Hilton, the sign language instructor at MSCTC.
“I get contacted weekly asking if I’m available to help,” Hilton said. “Sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not.”
Jerry Geist of Fargo said through an interpreter that male interpreters are particularly in high demand.
Geist, 48, a supervisor at Minnesota Relay, said men prefer a male interpreter for medical appointments.
The program at MSCTC attracts students from well outside of Fargo-Moorhead.
Jori Davis and her mother, Janice Davis, commute more than 100 miles one way from Bagley to Moorhead to learn sign language.
Janice Davis works in the school district and wants to earn a sign language certificate.
Jori Davis plans to continue with the interpreter program and would like to interpret for people living in the White Earth Indian Reservation.
“It’s in high demand on the reservation,” she said.
Lori Marchand, 44, Moorhead, is working toward her sign language certificate and glad she now has the opportunity to pursue the interpreter program without leaving the area.
Marchand, who has a friend who is deaf, said she wants to be able to help fill the need for interpreters locally.
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