Navigating a special education plan or getting a child the support services they need can be complicated. So how do you communicate and advocate for your kid if you’re deaf, blind or don’t speak English?
Families say finding interpreters in a timely manner who can both speak their language — whether that’s Amharic or American Sign Language — and also understand education jargon can be challenging and frustrating.
A new, comprehensive Washington state law that passed this spring will make it easier for students and families facing language barriers to access free, high-quality interpretation and support services. It also supports a training and credentialing program for interpreters working in educational settings, much like existing programs for medical and social services interpreters. Advocates say the legislation will have far-reaching effects, including increased family and student engagement, which leads to higher rates of academic achievement and graduation and overall self-esteem.
“This bill is so exciting and so complicated,” said Kaitie Dong, leadership development and education manager for OneAmerica, a local nonprofit immigrant and refugee advocacy organization. She said it centers “the experiences and voices” of students and families with limited spoken English skills.
There are federal laws, like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, that give people rights to communication aids like interpreters and teletypewriter services.
But efforts to formalize language interpretation training and practice in schools stalled in the Washington Legislature for at least the past eight years. Then in 2022, a new version of the bill received broad community and bipartisan support and passed 86-12. The new law focuses on spoken and signed language interpretation, and supporters hope its passage will pave the way for more resources and funding for written translations.
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Tina Orwall, D-SeaTac, credited