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Idaho State University Sign Language Interpreting program awarded $2.1 million grant to fund Promoting Equity in Healthcare Interpreting project

April 29, 2022

Photo of two women using sign language.

The United States Department of Education, through its Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) has awarded $2.1 million to Idaho State University (ISU) researcher Elizabeth Schniedewind, clinical associate professor for sign language interpreting.

The grant funds will support ISU and Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. in a cooperative effort to train sign language interpreters with the goal of improving the experience and patient care of deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing individuals in healthcare settings across the country. 
Schniedewind’s doctoral research project in 2020 uncovered a plethora of issues surrounding access to health care by deaf individuals. Data from that project shows that deaf patients experience discrimination when accessing health care and have long reported a subpar communication experience, which included the provision of unqualified or ad hoc interpreters.
Schniedewind and Gallaudet University colleague Campbell McDermid, associate professor of interpretation and translation in Gallaudet’s School of Language, Education and Culture, aim to change that. 
The RSA grant funds will be distributed to ISU over the course of five years for the Promoting Equity in Healthcare Interpreting project. ISU and Gallaudet will work together to build a new curriculum for sign language interpreters that is healthcare-specific. This foundational curriculum will be used nationally to train generalist interpreters with at least three years of experience to become proficient in interpreting medical terminology and other specialized interpreting skills focused on communication and access.
ISU and Gallaudet will design and conduct studies to learn more about the experiences deaf, deafblind, and hard-of-hearing individuals encounter in healthcare settings when interpreting services are provided over video. They will study the experiences of generalist interpreters currently providing services in healthcare settings to understand their levels of proficiency and the areas in which they desire more training. Much of the data will be collected in partnership with six state agencies for the deaf, deafblind, and hard-of-hearing: Arizona, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, and Virginia.
After compiling the data from these two groups and working closely with state agencies who serve the deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing populations, the researchers will include in the curriculum instruction intended to develop ethical reasoning skills for healthcare interpreters, particularly in the area of service provision in healthcare settings over video. 
Schniedewind says improved interpreting will boost the level of care deaf patients receive while also enhancing the privacy of those individuals in healthcare settings. “It is my hope that by increasing the number of interpreters qualified to provide services in healthcare settings, the care deaf patients receive will improve. After testing, the curriculum will be made available to the public, allowing interpreters to begin their journey towards specialization in this much-needed area of service.” she explains.
“Our project is unique in that we are employing evidence-based practices and a teaching methodology based on single-subject design to address specific gaps identified in the literature concerning sign language interpreter education,” says McDermid. “By enhancing their skills, we increase the accessibility of healthcare services for Deaf people."
Both Schniedewind and McDermid have ties to Gallaudet University, the cooperating institution in this grant. Schniedewind attended Gallaudet as a hearing undergraduate student and received a bachelor’s degree in 1990 and a master’s degree in 1992. She earned her Doctor of Education degree from Boise State University in 2020. McDermid graduated from Gallaudet in 1988 with a master’s degree in developmental psychology and completed his doctorate in education from York University in 2012.
This grant is titled “Training of Interpreters for Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and Individuals Who Are Deafblind Program: H160D210007 (Idaho State University): Specialty Area 5, field initiated, in the topic area of interpreting in healthcare (to advance health equity)”. It is from the U.S. Department of Education (Assistance Listing Number (ALN) 84.160


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