Photo of Cassie Coburn
Cassie Coburn

After nearly two years of classes in American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting, the students of Waubonsee’s Interpreter Training Program (ITP) put all their skills to use. Students who are close to completing the program have learned the basics and explored the nuances of ASL, the natural language of Deaf people. They have explored the Deaf culture and have completed all the classes in fingerspelling and linguistics. With all of this complete, they are ready to bring it all together at an event called the Role Play.

These students want to become sign language interpreters. The number of Deaf people who use ASL is estimated to be between 250,000 and 500,000 in the United States and Canada. Today’s students will soon be new interpreters and will be working in the community between Deaf and hearing people to help communication flow smoothly. Interpreters work in a variety of settings:  educational (k-12 and college) medical (physicians appointments, testing and hospitalization), artistic (plays and concerts), and the community (everything from business to conferences and speaking events).   

Every April, the current class of Interpreter Training Program students has a chance to try several settings in which sign language interpreters work. This is only possible with volunteers from the Deaf Community.  Most of the current participants have been coming for years. They know their participation and feedback to the students is crucial to them fine-tuning their skills.

Throughout the Role Play, scenarios run concurrently. Each scenario is between hearing and Deaf people in a particular setting so the student interpreters can interpret the “stressful situation” without worrying about doing any damage if they err in their interpreting. They gain experience, knowledge and confidence. The players might be at a restaurant planning a party, renting an apartment, or interviewing at a daycare center. Scenarios may include a worried parent whose child is brought home by the police, with an interpreter conveniently by their side. The “police officer” sees flying hands as Deaf parents question the police about what their errant child did. Would the officer understand what is happening? Ah, the officer hears a confident voice interpreting the flying hands.

Some of the scenarios call for two participants to play parents or co-owners of a business. The interplay between two Deaf characters can be fast-paced and challenging but it usually ends in laughter as the scene can become very entertaining as the Deaf participants ad-lib. At the close of each scenario, the Deaf and hearing participants give feedback to the students. As an all-day event, the group will pause for a few breaks to socialize and grab some lunch, but each student will interpret several scenarios.

In the spring of 2018, the hearing participants were played by the students in the first year sign language classes who wanted to enter the ITP the following year. Thus, most of the current 2019 ITP students got a sneak-peak into their future that day by volunteering to play those roles. Besides being able to see those who were a year ahead of them and where they were headed, they had the opportunity to socialize with the Deaf participants on and off during the day. Now, the group who volunteered the previous year are looking forward to this milestone in their education. They know where they are headed. They are trying on various interpreting hats, preparing to go out into the world and start their career as a working interpreter.

Waubonsee Community College’s Interpreter Training Program was the first-of-its-kind in Illinois when it was established in 1975. It remains at the forefront of study thanks to the use of digital technology. Visit to learn more about the program and how you can earn an associate degree in this important career field.

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