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Life Without Interpreter Not Easy For UNK Student


Mark Dallman is like every other freshman at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

He’s adapting to life in the dorms, getting to class on time and keeping up with his studies.

But, Dallman may be having a more difficult time adapting to life at UNK than his peers.

“I’m the only deaf student on campus. That makes it really tough on me,” Dallman said.

Although Dallman uses technology to help him during class and tutoring sessions, he said he isn’t getting the full college experience because he doesn’t have a sign language interpreter.

Cheryl Bressington, UNK’s director of affirmative action, equal opportunity and ADA, said the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing changed certification requirements for sign language interpreters working on college campuses.

Although Dallman, a social work major, was told he would have an interpreter when he was accepted to UNK, the interpreter didn’t have the proper certification and could no longer work for the university, she said.

“We haven’t been able to find anyone,” Bressington said. “There’s a chronic shortage. There’s not a lot of people who have those translating skills in outstate Nebraska.”

Dallman said he decided to attend UNK because he has family in the area and wanted a challenge.

“I wanted to be close to my family, and I didn’t want to go to an all-deaf university,” Dallman said. “I wanted to challenge myself academically. I like being a part of the hearing world, and I wanted to go to a hearing university.”

He graduated from a school for the deaf in Phoenix and has always had sign language interpreters, so the change in communication style has been a struggle.

“It’s been really tough,” he said through a sign language interpreter on a video relaying service that uses the telephone. “Plus, without interpreters for tutoring, I have to bring my laptop, and we type back and forth. Sign language is my first language.”

Dallman uses TypeWell, a speech-to-text communication system, provided by the university.

Each of Dallman’s professors wears a Bluetooth. A transcriber at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln types what the teacher says, and the words appear on a screen Dallman carries with him to class.

“It’s been really hard for me because I’ve got so much equipment to carry with me,” Dallman said. “It’s helped me some during class, but I miss other students voices.”

Sandy Cook-Fong, Dallman’s adviser and social work professor, said the TypeWell system is a limited kind of communication.

“He misses expression when he’s reading off of a computer,” Cook-Fong said. “If there were a person there that would do the interpretation, that would be beneficial to him.”

Cook-Fong said she often repeats student’s questions and tries to summarize student comments so the Bluetooth picks it up and the conversation is relayed to Dallman’s computer.

“He’s not getting the full range of class,” Cook-Fong said.

Cook-Fong said although the university plans to hire someone to sit with him during class and transcribe the class, it still lacks the expressiveness of signing.

“Again, the difficulty is he’s getting everything through reading. Signing is much more expressive. Just reading is very different than getting the full emotion with signing,” Cook-Fong said. “I want as much as possible to make the accommodations that he needs, but there are a lot of obstacles.”

Bressington said the university plans to place an advertisement for a transcriber to attend classes with Dallman starting in the fall semester.

Because the phone system currently in place can’t detect what Dallman’s classmates are saying, the transcriber will be able to type everything that is said during class using the software already in use.

Dallman said an in-class transcriber will be an improvement, but won’t be the same as having an interpreter.

“This all came about because the commission changed the requirements and wouldn’t give us any leeway,” Bressington said. “There aren’t people going into the field. It’s going to be a big problem. We try to provide what accommodations we can. It’s a struggle on both sides.”

Allen Reigenborn, special-education director at Educational Service Unit 10, said there are interpreters in the area, but they are already working in schools.

“When new people move in, it’s hard to find people to take over those positions, and it’s hard to get them certified,” Reigenborn said.

He said high schools now offer sign language as a foreign language, and many community colleges offer classes in sign language.

“Hopefully, we can get some of those high school students to carry through at college,” Reigenborn said.

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