Instructor Nina Wilson, left, works with Lindsey Thielemier, right, on vocabulary while Julikka Madison observes.
Florissant Valley's Interpreter Education Program Bridges Language Barrier
The fourth most commonly used language in the United States
is American Sign Language.
And it’s a good bet that local events or settings at which
a sign language interpreter is working, that person is a graduate of the
interpreter education program at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley.
Established in 1980, the interpreter education program is
Missouri’s oldest and largest established.
According to program coordinator Mary Luebke, Florissant Valley is
considered to be the academic as well as cultural center for both deaf and
interpreting students in St. Louis.
“We have a long tradition of being sensitive to the needs
of the deaf population of our service area and the state at large,” Luebke
For example, Florissant Valley’s Theater of the Deaf has
staged productions since 1978. The
theater, which uses both speaking and signing actors on stage, is the only one
of its kind in the metro area.
The St. Louis Metro Roundtable of Representatives on Deafness recently
recognized the theater with its Community Service Award.
Lisa Gale-Betzler, a longtime instructor at Florissant Valley, is considered “the
premiere deaf actress in St. Louis,” Luebke said. However, long before the theater was established, college
personnel interpreted for hearing impaired patrons during theatrical
Bridging Language Barriers
State statutes now require anyone who engages in the practice
of interpreting in Missouri to be certified by the Board for Certification of
Interpreters and licensed by the Missouri State Committee of Interpreters.
To this end, and to increase the pool of qualified interpreters in
Missouri, Luebke and other staff members redesigned the program into a 1+2
cooperative degree. The 22-hour
certificate program accommodates individuals who simply want to learn about
American Sign Language and the deaf community.
Those who desire to become certified interpreters carry these 22 hours
into the associate degree program.
Qualified deaf instructors exclusively teach Florissant
Valley’s ASL classes. Interpreting
courses are taught exclusively by state certified, licensed professionals.
Faculty members serve on state licensure and certification boards.
Ninety-five percent of program graduates find employment also
immediately; 100 percent of the graduates pass the state’s written licensure
exam while 80 percent of the graduates receive a proficiency level certification
and state license to practice.
Growing Demand for Interpreters
One current student, Joann Byrd, is a registered nurse who
would like to interpret for the deaf in the healthcare environment.
“I worked in an emergency room setting, and there never was
an interpreter available,” Byrd said. “Patients
who were deaf didn’t know what was going on, and were not able to communicate
with caregivers. They need
intervention because sometimes you are interpreting in life and death
Graduates of the interpreter education program are proficient
in ASL and English, and learn special techniques and ethical considerations for
interpreting in a variety of settings with people of various ages.
They also are able to relate to people in individual and group settings.
ASL Now Recognized As Foreign Language
“We hope the legislation will not only increase the number
of sign language courses taught statewide, but also stem a shortage of deaf
communications professionals,” Luebke said.
“With more courses available, others will have a wonderful opportunity
to learn more about this amazing group of people who have such a rich
For more information about the interpreter education program, call (314) 513-4477 or e-mail Luebke, firstname.lastname@example.org.