Big win for Eugene interpreters

American Sign Language interpreters in Eugene School District won a major victory recently in their demands for fair compensation for the work they do.

Serving Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students throughout Lane County districts in classrooms, extracurricular and even social activities is a job that requires a high-level set of skills, certification and experience. Yet the pay scale at Eugene School District did not recognize the variety of work and skills progression that are part and parcel of interpreting, causing a high level of turnover.

Interpreters say that the high level of turnover particularly harms students, who rely on them not just for interpretation of classroom lessons, but for access to their entire educational experience.

“Quality education for ALL students, including those with hearing loss, is something we believe to be imperative,” said Tara Smith, an interpreter and member of Eugene Chapter 1. “While we are excited to have our profession recognized for its extensive training, required certification and complexity, it always came back to the students.”

Interpreters who are new to the field do not yet have the experience to work most effectively with students in a variety of language modes and settings.

“Deaf and Hard of Hearing students will benefit from an increase in consistent and quality interpreter services,” said Erika O’Brien, who is also an interpreter with Eugene School District. “We are proud to know that our students will have improved access to their education.”

The team has been seeking a reclassification for two years. Their application and appeal were denied by the school district. To underscore their importance to students and the community, supporters packed a Eugene School Board meeting in May, with numerous parents and students underscoring how quality interpreting has changed their lives and the outcomes for people they love.

OSEA Field Representative Mary Kay Brant said the investigation into work performed by interpreters showed a need for different classification levels. Where there was once simply the “interpreter” classification, they may now fit into an Interpreter I or II class, or a Lead Interpreter designation. A lead interpreter would have additional duties of scheduling the team throughout the day.

“It provides a career path,” Brant said. “We hope it will get them to that level of pay we were all hungering for.”

Brenda Bianchi, an interpreter and member of Eugene Chapter 1, said the process was lengthy, but important.

“Many of us put in hundreds of personal hours over the last year and a half creating documents, making flyers, prepping for meetings, educating district staff, and working closely with with our OSEA Chapter 1 representatives,” she said.

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