Hands on USF interpreter Kelly O'Brien, studying for her bachelor's degree in interpreter training, recently interpreted for a deaf mother attending a transfer orientation with her daughter. Hands on USF receives about 1,000 requests for service annually.
It’s a dreary weekday morning,
but the excitement is almost palpable inside the USF Marshall Student Center,
where hundreds of transfer students and their parents are learning about majors,
internships, the “Go Bulls!” hand symbol, and countless other facets of the USF
The constant among the
cheering and ever-changing presenters: the Hands on USF interpreter at stage
right, who keeps her eyes trained on one mother, ensuring she doesn’t miss a
word about the institution she’s entrusting with her daughter.
“My mission, just as every
interpreter’s, is to make sure there is clear communication for all parties
involved, not only the client who is deaf. My personal goal is to make the
people involved feel that their experience is no different from everyone else
who is there as well,” said Kelly O’Brien, who interpreted under the
supervision of Hands On USF Coordinator Michon Shaw at the orientation for
Sandra Busby, who is deaf and whose daughter, Camille, is transferring to USF
in the fall.
“For me, interpreting at the
orientation was a learning experience in that I had more than 400 people
looking at me. It was intimidating at first, but I was there for an important
purpose — to give my client the ability to participate in her daughter’s
orientation, just like all the other parents in the room.”
Herein lies the mission that
has guided Hands on USF since its founding, even as it has
expanded to provide services well beyond USF’s campus boundaries: Bridge the
hearing and deaf communities, and in the process, develop highly prepared interpreters.
Soon after she came to work at
USF in 2006, Andrea Smith, interpreter training undergraduate program
coordinator, noticed that there was a need for both centralized interpreting
services and a wider range of experiences for interpreters in training.
“We had departments just down
the hall from each other using different interpreting agencies. It was very
piecemeal. We wanted to provide consistently high-quality services across the
university,” Smith said.
“At the same time, 99 percent
of our students were completing their internships in K-12 classrooms; the
schools were our primary source of placement sites. That is great if you want
to go into educational interpreting, but there are so many other
specializations — medical, legal, performing arts. Interpreters use a
generalized set of skills across the settings, but in medical, they need to
know more anatomy and physiology terms, and in legal, they need to know more
about the protocols of the court system. By offering limited placement sites,
we were offering limited opportunities and experiences for professional
Smith’s solution to both these
problems was Hands on USF, which to her knowledge is one of very few, if not
the only, services of its kind.
Students studying toward their
Bachelor of Arts in
Interpreter Training spend their second-to-last semester working with Hands
on USF, rotating through modules that now include medical interpreting; the video
relay service, which allows deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals to communicate
with hearing individuals through interpreters via video screen; educational
interpreting; and community interpreting, a catchall term for everything from
last semester’s TedX event to the recent transfer orientation.
Camille Busby, who is transferring to USF in the fall, attended a recent transfer orientation with her mother, Sandra, who is deaf. Sandra was able to participate in the event thanks to services provided by Hands on USF.
At each of their assignments,
Hands on USF students are accompanied by nationally certified interpreters, who
watch to make sure they’re interpreting accurately and are ready to jump in if
they need help. More often than not, it’s Shaw
who supervises the students, but Smith, a handful of faculty members and
several contracted interpreters fill gaps in the schedule when needed.
Hands on USF clients request
services through an online booking system, found at handsonusf.usf.edu. Over the years, both
the geographic distance and variety of the jobs have grown considerably. Hands
on USF has provided services from The Villages to Sun City Center, and for
everything from comedy shows to days-long professional conferences.
Hands on USF is now filling an
average of 1,000 requests per year.
“To me, conferences are a big
milestone for this service. A lot of our students have not yet had the
opportunity to attend conferences themselves, but they’ve been able to
translate complex information to large groups of professionals — that makes me
very proud,” Smith said.
Added Shaw: “Our students are
now seeing a variety of styles of language, backgrounds and ethnicities.
They’re learning that it is their responsibility to prepare for their
assignments, and they’re learning to do a lot of self-analysis afterward so
that they continue to develop their skill sets. With the modules, we’re helping
students get an idea of what area of interpreting they want to work in in the
future, and what it will take to be successful in their chosen specialty.”
Hands on USF student interpreters are supervised by nationally certified interpreters. Many times, Michon Shaw, Hands on USF coordinator, accompanies the students to ensure they are translating correctly and to provide backup if necessary.
Doctor’s appointments are
fairly routine requests, but even those present invaluable learning
opportunities. Students must learn to handle mundane inconveniences, such as
visits that are cancelled at the last minute, or checkups that run long. It is often
in doctor’s offices that students first encounter regional variations in
American Sign Language. Just as northerners say “soda” and Midwesterners say “pop,”
the same such differences exist in sign language, and recognizing and
communicating around them is a key interpretation skill.
It was in a medical setting
that Hands on USF provided perhaps its most unusual service to date: A non-ASL-using
deaf patient communicated to a certified deaf interpreter, who then communicated
to the Hands on USF interpreter, who then spoke to the doctor. Then everything
was repeated in reverse, and so on and so on until the end of the appointment. Certified
deaf interpreters are sometimes used to facilitate communication between deaf
individuals and ASL interpreters.
Recent Interpreter Training
graduate Aimee Puerta is now working for a video relay service and as a
community interpreter. Her Hands on USF experiences, she said, provided a solid
foundation on which she is now building a career.
“Through Hands on USF, I
learned that interpreting is a skill, but so is preparing for the assignment.
When the opportunity is there, it is really important to prepare for the
terminology that will be used, for accents, if someone involved speaks with
one, for the rate of speaking that will be used,” Puerta said.
“The opportunity to work
alongside experienced people and get their feedback was wonderful.”
Another advantage Hands on USF
offers interpreters in training: the chance to fully understand the difference
they make in their clients’ lives.
“It was important for me to
participate in the transfer orientation because I am there for Camille, and I
want to know as much information as possible to prepare her to make a smooth
transition from home to college,” said Sandra Busby.
“I am thankful that USF
provides ASL interpreters to sign for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Without the
interpreters, we would be totally lost, not getting all the information we need
to know for our children. It is important for deaf people to participate in the
orientation as well as hearing people.”
Hands on USF is just one of
the many advancements USF’s Department
of Communication Sciences & Disorders, housed within the College of
Behavioral and Community Sciences, is celebrating this year as it marks its 50th
Story by Rachel Pleasant, University Communications & Marketing, Photos by Eric Younghans, University Communications & Marketing