OCC Sign Language Interpreter program receives national accreditation

Oakland Community College’s Sign Language Interpreting program has been awarded national accreditation for its Associate Degree program by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE).

The accreditation comes at an important time as Michigan faces a significant sign language interpreter shortage – one of the most severe shortages seen in decades according to the Deaf Community Advocacy Network. The shortage is, in part, due to rules put in place last year to protect the Deaf, calling for interpreters in hospitals, schools, courts and law offices, and requires passage of certification exams. Currently for every one graduate, there are three jobs that go unfilled.

OCC’s program was judged by the CCIE under the same standards as a four-year program including curriculum design, rigor, research requirements and 300 hours of mandated practicum experience. Starting in January 2016, there is moratorium on accreditation of associate degree programs. OCC’s accreditation is approved for 10 years, the maximum available.

There are currently five Sign Language Interpreter (SLI) degree programs across the state including three associate and two bachelor degree programs. OCC’s program is noted for its nationally credentialed faculty, “highly active” student body and diversity of its program and students.

“One of the key factors that distinguishes our program from others – and, is also an accreditation requirement – is our small class sizes,” said Kelly Flores, program coordinator of OCC’s Sign Language Interpreter Program. “Students get more one-on-one time with the faculty which is proven to enhance learning.”

OCC’s SLI classes are limited to 15 students per class; program academic classes are limited to 20 students and interpreting classes max out at 12 students. The program takes 2½ to three years to complete. There are approximately 20 students who graduate each year as American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpreters for all consumers.

A practice profession with a code of conduct, rigorous course study and outside practical experience.
OCC began offering sign language courses in the early 2000s while a local community interpreter secured a grant to launch a full program. Consultants helped develop curriculum and, in 2004, the College began offering second and third year courses. In 2006, the program graduated its first cohort.

Today, the total number of students taking an introductory SLI class is approximately1200-1300 students per year. Some of the American Sign Language courses can be used to fulfill a general education degree humanities requirement. The program gets much smaller with less than 5% of students starting second year classes in advance language and interpreting. 

A small field, based on relationships.
OCC’s program has more deaf faculty than hearing instructors and promotes a very diverse adjunct and student base to match the greater metro area. Language immersion starts from day one and the students “eat, sleep and breath” the language to become fluent in the process. OCC Highland Lakes Art, Design, and Humanities Department Chair Joanne Forbes is currently the only deaf department chairperson in any Michigan college or university.

Anyone who wants to be a part of the Deaf community is expected to use their talents and serve within it for their full career. Faculty model this by supervising interpreters for interns, serving on various boards and associations and volunteering for various causes. Students follow in the footsteps of their OCC instructors interpreting at community outreach centers, Little League, “Deaf Arts Festival” at Arts Beats and Eats, conferences and signing and Deaf club events. They are also very active in Sign Club, mentoring programs, preparation for certification examinations, and professional development activities.

Staunch supporters, active recruiters.
During the accreditation process, the commissioners commented stakeholder attendance was the highest they’ve seen. People attended multiple sessions wearing different hats; many community members and graduates came to participate as well showing outstanding community support.

A point of pride is program faculty diversity at over 30% and, as a result, students have tremendous opportunity to interact with individuals who possess a broad range of language styles. In addition, students are presented with courses that enhance their knowledge and appreciation of multicultural features of society.

The final award noted the College’s Sign Language Interpreting Program “consistently demonstrated complete and seamless support from the president on down….stated again and again by community members, students, adjunct faculty, and full time program faculty.”

About OCC
With five campuses throughout Oakland County, Oakland Community College is committed to providing academic and developmental experiences that allows each student to reach their full potential and enhance the diverse communities they serve. It offers degrees and certificates in approximately 100 career fields and university transfer degrees in business, science and the liberal arts. More than a million students have enrolled in the college since it opened in 1965. To learn more about OCC, visit oaklandcc.edu.