iCORE Logo (Innovative & Creative Opportunities for Research & Education)Interpreting in Vocational Rehabilitation Settings:

Curriculum and Resources from the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC)

Anna Witter-Merithew
University of Northern Colorado
Trudy Schafer
Northeastern University
Pauline Annarino
El Camino Community College and Western Oregon University
During the 2010-2015 funding cycle, the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers will develop a series of training modules for preparing interpreters to work in Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) settings.  To this end, NCIEC has conducted a literature review (NCIEC, 2011) and conducted multiple expert meetings and focus groups (NCIEC, 2012b) for the purpose of identifying the skills, knowledge and attributes necessary to be effective as an interpreter in the VR context.  Building on a set of entry-to-practice competencies (Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2005), a set of specialized competencies for working in VR settings and a set of eight (8) training modules have been defined containing between 5-7 units of learning per module.  A flexible design approach has been used so that curriculum can be developed for either pre-service or in-service trainings.  This paper is a report of the progress made to date on this project.
The mission of the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC) is to build and promote effective practices in the fields of interpreting and interpreter education. The NCIEC was formed as a vehicle for sharing knowledge, expertise, leadership, and fiscal resources among the member Centers and for establishing important partnerships with consumer, professional, and academic organizations and institutions. The involvement of consumers and vocational rehabilitation service providers in the development and implementation of all educational initiatives of the NCIEC ensures that programming is grounded in the realities of everyday life of deaf, Deaf-Blind and hard-of-hearing people.
This article reports specifically on an initiative related to Interpreting in VR settings – one of the priorities of the 2010-2015 NCIEC grant cycle. Specialist competence in interpreting has been a topic of exploration by various workgroups within the NCIEC since 2005 (Witter-Merithew, 2010). The exploration has focused primarily on defining competencies of specialist practitioners serving special populations, such as Deaf Interpreters, practice in specialized settings such as legal, healthcare, and mental health, and/or specialization resulting from unique functions of the interpreter – such as occurs when interpreting via technology as a video relay or video remote interpreter.
A factor contributing to the exploration of competencies of interpreters in VR settings is the recognition that the standard of competent practice for this setting has yet to be defined.  As well, in 2009 over 80% of State Coordinators for the Deaf survey respondents reported interpreters have become less available to their State VR agency in the past five years (Cokely & Winston, 2009).  Further, they reported difficulties with filling specific types of positions:  44% reported being unable to fill full-time staff interpreter positions and 39% reported being unable to find sufficient part-time contract interpreters. Therefore, designing training programs to increase the pool of qualified individuals to interpret in this setting is dependent upon a clear understanding of the competencies involved.
Defining Competencies of the VR Interpreter
In an effort to better understand the nature of specialized competence needed to interpret in this setting, a work-team comprised of members of the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC)
was formed. The workgroup collaborated with a pool of seven (7) experts in the fields of Vocational Rehabilitation and interpreting to define the competencies of interpreters in VR settings, towards the goal of developing curriculum to prepare interpreter educators and practitioners for working in this setting.  The findings of the experts were analyzed in relationship to a comprehensive literature review that was conducted (NCIEC, 2011a).  From these investigative processes, and building on the Entry-to-Practice Competencies project (Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2005) funded by the Department of Education RSA in the 2000-2005 cycle, a set of competencies were defined (NCIEC, 2012a). Consensus regarding the competencies identified was built through a series of eight focus groups comprised of VR personnel and interpreter practitioners from various parts of the United States who possess significant experience interpreting in this setting (NCIEC, 2012b).
In addition to a well-developed mastery of the Entry-to-Practice Competencies, expert findings indicate that interpreters working in VR settings must possess a high degree of competence in working with a wide range of Deaf, hard-of-hearing and deafblind individuals seeking VR services (NCIEC, 2012a).  Many of the deaf individuals served by VR have multiple factors impacting their language use. Interpreters working in this setting must be able to assess the language and communicative needs of VR clients and to adapt their behavior accordingly.
In addition to working with Deaf, hard-of-hearing and deafblind clients, interpreters working in the VR setting also must be qualified to interpret for Deaf Professionals working within the VR system (NCIEC, 2012a).  The language use and communicative needs of these professionals are very different from the clients they serve.  Interpreters working with these professionals must have sufficient interpreting and interpersonal skills to work with a wide range of other professionals in meetings, consultations, and other professional interactions.
Further complicating the work of interpreters is the wide range of contexts associated with interpreting in VR settings.  Interpreters must have an understanding of VR as a system, the theories and practices impacting the work of VR professionals, the range of services available, the other agencies/networks that interface with VR in serving clients, the range of tests done to determine job readiness and suitability, and the world of work, among other topics (NCIEC, 2012a).  Interpreting in VR settings can be viewed as an area of specialization that intersects at times with medical, mental health and legal interpreting.
The competencies defined by VR experts and interpreter practitioners provide illustration of the unique knowledge and skill sets needed by interpreters who work in VR settings.  With this foundation in mind, the NCIEC VR initiative workgroup brought together another team of experts to begin defining design considerations for development of training modules.
Curricular Design and Consideration
Based on the competencies developed by the expert and focus groups, the NCIEC VR initiative workgroup, in concert with several VR content experts and an instructional designer, developed lesson plans for eight modules and 49 units of learning (UOLs).  Each module represents a broad topic related to the competencies and the units of learning within the module break down the topic into individual topics or areas of exploration.  This provides maximum flexibility in that individual units can stand alone to be used for pre-service learning, in-service trainings, mentoring sessions, or units can be “mixed and matched” to develop learning events tailored to the needs of specific audiences.  This approach should provide maximum flexibility of use of the UOLs to improve interpreter knowledge and skills about VR.
The Modules and UOLs were designed using a Constructivist Theory of learning, which recognizes that learning is an active process where learners construct new ideas or concepts based on current/past knowledge (Kolb, 1984).  In addition, it proposes a learning process which allows students to experience an environment first-hand and construct their own knowledge based on their experiences and reflection on those experiences (Clark & Elen, 2006).  In alignment with this theory, the UOLs provide suggestions for content, activities, and assessments that incorporate web exploration, field work, lectures from experts, readings, practice, and reflection that can assist students in building their knowledge about working in VR settings.  Accompanying DVDs of scenarios involving deaf clients in VR settings have also been developed which enable students to observe and practice skills that will be required in VR settings.
The eight modules and associated units of learning are outlined in Appendix A. They progress from foundational knowledge about the VR system and its workings, to theories used in VR settings, to competencies related to interpreting skills needed in the VR setting, to human relations and professionalism required for working in the setting.
The design template used to develop each module contains:
Module Overview: Provides an overview of the module along with the module purpose and anticipated outcomes.
Units of Learning (UOL): The UOLs contain lesson plans that are designed to be flexible.  The information in the units can be applied in different ways to develop lesson plans, training materials, workshops or presentations to be used in multiple settings.
Each UOL contains:

  1. Related Domain and Competency
  2. Purpose of the Unit
  3. Key Questions-These questions can be used to guide learning and assessment in the unit
  4. Essential Concepts-This provides a summary of the important concepts that are the foundation of the unit.
  5. Assumptions-This provides both assumptions of learner knowledge entering the unit (prerequisites), along with information on presenter background and qualifications for the unit.
  6. Expected Outcomes-These highlight what will the learner be able to “do” after taking the module.
  7. Unit Plan and Activities-A brief description of how the material might be used in training.
  8. Assessment-A selection of assessments that can be used to assess learning in the unit.  These are intended to provide ideas for assessments, not necessarily to ALL be used in one unit.
  9. Unit Resource Materials-A list of articles, websites, books and other resources that might be used in the development of training.  In some cases an attachment is provided that includes a more detailed outline of content and resources.
  10. Key Terms-A list of key terms is included for each unit, which can be used to develop a glossary.

Field Testing the Design
As part of its commitment to expand the number and quality of interpreters to work in VR settings, the NCIEC translated one of the modules into an online course and delivered it as a pilot in fall 2012.  The pilot was hosted through the MARIE Center at the University of Northern Colorado within the Blackboard courseware.  Twelve certified interpreters from eleven states, representing each region of the NCIEC, were selected from over 140+ applicants to participate.  All of the twelve who participated have at least 3-5 years of experience specializing in interpreting in VR settings and the majority had prior experience in online learning.  The module that was developed for the pilot was Module 1: VR as a System.  It was delivered over the course of a full semester and included eight units of learning.  Participants completed a pre- and post-test to measure their knowledge of content prior to and upon completion of the module.  Pre- and post-test scores indicated that 87.5% of the completers improved knowledge of VR as a system by a 5-11 point increase in score on a 50 item multiple-choice test.
As well, participants were required to complete an exit survey assessing the value of the course design and course content, and prioritizing the development of the remaining seven modules.  The data from the exit survey will be used to revise Module 1 and to assist in the design of an online professional development series consisting of 4-5 modules.  This series is expected to launch in fall 2013.
In addition to the survey of pilot participants, a survey of the remaining 140+ applicants for the pilot was implemented in spring 2013 to determine what they perceive as the development priorities for the remaining modules and preferred options for accessing the training (e.g., online, for college credit or CEUs only, self-directed or guided learning).
Another way in which the design is being field-tested is through the development of several short pre-service lessons as part of the National Interpreter Education Center’s (NIEC) Outcome Circle (OC) initiative.  As a strategy for developing teaching resources and activities that are both effective and relevant, the NIEC established a collaboration of interpreting education programs to serve as a learning laboratory known as the Outcomes Circle (OC). As “first implementers,” OC programs will participate in an evaluation effort to document outcomes and impact of various initiatives, such as the IEP modules on interpreting in the VR setting.  Two six-hour modules are currently being developed—VR 101:  History, System & Process and The Face of the Deaf VR Consumer.
The NIEC will also work with the OC to facilitate practicum placements for IEP students in VR settings.  Three locations will be piloted during the 2012-2013 academic year.  Based on this experience, a VR Internship Guide will be developed and shared with Interpreter Education Programs.
Accessing Products and Materials
All of the modules and units of learning will be organized into a Resource Guide for Teachers and Mentors that includes a sample course and several possible lessons or workshops that could be offered by mixing and matching the content specifications.  This Guide, along with other materials developed as part of this project—such as the course Study Guide for Module 1: VR as a System, the Literature Review, an Annotated Bibliography, the Expert and Focus Group Report, and the Competencies of Interpreters in VR Settings—are available for download from the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC) website at http://www.interpretereducation.org/specialization/vocational-rehabilitation/consortiums-work-on-vr-interpreting/.
The Module 1: VR As a System Study Guide includes a roadmap of instructional activities, full descriptions of assignments, and rubrics for assessing learning. It is available both in PDF and Word format and can be downloaded and modified to meet the needs of individual programs and/or teachers/mentors.
Also available on the website is an order form to receive the Interpreting in VR Settings DVD 6-pack free-of-charge.  Each person can order up to three (3) of the DVD 6-packs for use in training and mentoring of interpreters to work in the VR setting. 
This set of six DVDs captures authentic scenarios that occur within the context of Vocational Rehabilitation Settings. Each DVD has between 20-60 minutes of text involving VR Deaf, DeafBlind and hard of hearing consumers, Deaf Professionals working in the VR context, and other VR professionals. The texts can be viewed with or without an interpreter and with or without captions.  Scenarios include a range of deaf VR clients discussing life and work experiences, Deaf VR professionals in action, a vocational evaluation, setting vocational goals, a VR staff meeting, among other events.
Interpreter educators, teachers and mentors are encouraged to access these various resources free-of-charge for use in training interpreters to work within VR settings.  Individuals with further questions about this project, or the products associated with it, can contact the NCIEC VR initiative team leader, Anna Witter-Merithew at anna.witter-merithew@unco.edu. This project is funded by the US Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) until 2015.
Appendix A
Interpreting in the VR Setting Modules and Units of Learning
Module 1:  VR as a System
UOL 1.1:  Historical Overview
UOL 1.2:  Federal Legislation
UOL 1.3:  Federal State Relationship
UOL 1.4:  Understanding VR Process:  Application to Post-Employment Services
UOL 1.5:  Understanding VR Personnel
UOL 1.6:  Overview of Community Partners & Agencies that Interface
UOL 1.7:  Career Development Theories
UOL 1.8:  Service Delivery Theories
Module 2:  Roles & Responsibilities
UOL 2.1:  Theoretical Constructs that Guide the Development of Professional Standards and Practices
UOL 2.2:  Ethical Standards and Practices Guiding the Work of VR Counselors
UOL 2.3:  Current Theories About the Role of Interpreters
UOL 2.4:  Dual Roles and/or Designated Interpreter Role
UOL 2.5:  Role Implementation When Working with an A-lingual and Low Functioning Deaf Adult
UOL 2.6:  Code of Professional Conduct Application
UOL 2.7:  Identification of Role Conflicts: Case Study Analysis
UOL 2.8:  Conflict Resolution Strategies
Module 3:  World of Work
UOL 3.1:  Theoretical Approach to the World of Work
UOL 3.2:  Incentives and Disincentives to Employment
UOL 3.3:  Historic and Current Perspectives and Patterns in the Employment of Deaf People
UOL 3.4:  Legal Considerations Impacting Employment
UOL 3.5:  Forms and Paperwork Associated with the Workplace
UOL 3.6:  Analysis of the Workplace with a Focus on Common Interactions to Determine Implications for Interpreting
Module 4:  Interpreting for Deaf Professionals
UOL 4.1:  Deaf Professionals in the VR System
UOL 4.2:  Unique Aspects of Working with a Deaf Professional
UOL 4.3:  Role Considerations
UOL 4.4:  Case Study Analysis
UOL 4.5:  Interpreting Skill Development and Practice
Module 5:  VR Assessment of the Customer 
UOL 5.1:  The Role of Assessment in the VR Process
UOL 5.2:  Assessment Tools
UOL 5.5:  Impact of Language and Culture on Assessment Outcomes
UOL 5.4:  Tools for Engaging in Professional Discussion with Test Givers and VR Personnel
UOL 5.5:  Comprehensive Assessment
UOL 5.6:  Development of the Individual Plan of Employment (IPE)
Module 6:  Interpreting for Deaf Consumers-Knowledge
UOL 6.1:  The Deaf VR Consumer
UOL 6.2:  VR Consumer Rights & Responsibilities
UOL 6.3:  Rights Based Approach to Interpreting
UOL 6.4:  Introduction/Overview of Demand Control Theory
UOL 6.5:  Application of DC Theory to the Triadic Relationship (consumer, counselor, interpreter)
Module 7:  Interpreting for Deaf Consumers-Skills
UOL 7.1:  Interpreting Assessment: Processes, Procedures, Tools
UOL 7.2:  Interpreting Assessment:  Case Analysis
UOL 7.3:  Interpreting Assessment:  Case Analysis involving Deaf Interpreter Team
UOL 7.4:  Interpreting Assessment:  Application to Skills Performance
UOL 7.5: Interpreting Assessment:  Working with Deaf-Blind Consumers in VR settings
Module 8:  VR Community Partners: A Professional Development Exploration
UOL 8.1:  The VR approach to service delivery
UOL 8.2:  Centers for Independent Living
UOL 8.3:  Adult Basic Education
UOL 8.4:  Vocational Training Programs
UOL 8.5:  Higher Education and VR
UOL 8.6:  Continued Professional Development for the VR Interpreter
About the Authors
Anna Witter-Merithew, M.Ed., is the Director for the Mid-America Regional Interpreter Education Center at the University of Northern Colorado.  She has been a practicing interpreter and interpreter educator/program administrator since 1975.  Anna has served as President and Vice President of RID and Vice President of the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT). She is the team leader for the NCIEC Interpreting in VR Initiative.
Trudy Schafer, MIP, MPA, CSC, CI/CT, is the project coordinator for the National Interpreter Education Center at Northeastern University.  She has been a practicing interpreter since 1976 and an interpreter educator since 2002.  Trudy has served as president of Children of Deaf Adults International and two state chapters of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf: Illinois and Massachusetts.
Pauline Annarino, M.S., NAD V, GPC is the Director of the Western Region Interpreter Education Center (WRIEC) an organizational member of the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC). Since 1974, she has been a practicing interpreter, an interpreter educator, and a nonprofit and post-secondary administrator and service provider.
This initiative was launched by bringing together a panel of experts who participated in the Expert Think Tank on Interpreting in the VR Setting, held May 25-27, 2011, in Denver, Colorado. The goal of the Think Tank was to convene a group of experts to identify the skills, knowledge and attributes of interpreters working in the VR setting and to conceptualize a framework for harvesting additional expert opinion.   Appreciation is extended to the following individuals who participated in and contributed to this event:
Dr. Glenn Anderson (AR), Ms. Barbara Bryant (CO), Mr. Dee Clanton (NH), Dr. Cheryl Davis (OR), Ms. Sheryl Emery (MI), Ms. Sheila Hoover (OR), Dr. Linda Stauffer (AR). Thanks also to the NCIEC Center representatives who assisted in the implementation and facilitation of the Think Tank: Ms. Pauline Annarino (WRIEC), Ms. Lillian Garcia Peterkin (NIEC), Ms. Amy Kroll (MARIE), Ms. Trudy Schafer (NIEC), and Ms. Anna Witter-Merithew (MARIE).
A special thanks is extended to Dr. Linda Stauffer who conducted the literature review and created the annotated bibliography that served as foundational documents for this project.
In addition, a series of focus groups were conducted involving practitioners, consumers and VR personnel. Appreciation is extended to all the individuals who participated in the focus groups that were held in Atlanta, Georgia, Boston, Massachusetts, and by way of audio conferencing.  Interpreters from a wide range of states participated, including Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, California, Ohio, Florida, Utah, Oregon, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Special thanks are extended to Ms. Kellie Stewart and Dr. Laurie Bolster, who served as editors of several project documents.
Sincere appreciation and gratitude is extended to all the other Directors and Principal Investigators who make up the NCIEC and administer one of the remaining six (6) Centers—Ms. Pauline Annarino (WRIEC), Dr. Cheryl Davis (WRIEC), Ms. Cathy Cogen (NIEC), Dr. Dennis Cokely, Ms. Bev Hollrah (GURIEC), Mr. Richard Laurion (CATIE), Dr. Laurie Swabey (CATIE), Ms. Anna Witter-Merithew (MARIE) and Dr. Leilani Johnson (MARIE).  Without their leadership and fiscal support, this project would not have been possible.
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