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September 12, 2007

Gov. Blagojevich signs law to protect people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing from unskilled interpreters
State to set standards to license and regulate sign language interpreters

SPRINGFIELD Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed a law that protects people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing from unqualified and unskilled sign language interpreters.  Senate Bill 259, the Interpreter for the Deaf Licensure Act of 2007, establishes statewide licensing standards for registered interpreters.  Sponsored by State Senator Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville) and State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), the legislation ensures those individuals who are in need of interpretive services will be paired with qualified interpreters who are subject to professional standards.
“This law will help make sure people who need reliable sign language services get them from licensed professionals, and also allows them to file a complaint if they’re getting poor services from unqualified interpreters,” said the Governor.
Presently, sign language interpreters are required to register with the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission (IDHHC).  However, there is an absence of detailed professional standards that can be used to hold service providers accountable for the quality of their services.  Without standards or penalties, people receiving inadequate services lack a way to report problems or file complaints with state regulators.
“The signing of SB 259 is a great day for Illinois deaf and hard of hearing citizens and sign language interpreters.  Illinois today joins in the national trend in recognizing the interpreting profession,” said John Miller, Director of the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission.  “Sign language interpreters provide a valuable service and ensure full communication access for deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens and service providers.  Additionally, licensing of sign language interpreters establishes accountability and standards for the profession. We applaud the Governor and the General Assembly in recognizing the importance of this legislation.”   
SB 259 establishes, for the first time, a licensing system to guarantee oversight of professional services for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.  The legislation accomplishes this goal by:
  • Requiring the IDHHC to develop and enforce standards to license and regulate interpreters for the deaf or hard-of-hearing;
  • Establishing a Board of Interpreters for the Deaf who will define standards and advise IDHHC on interpreter assessment and requirements;
  • Giving the IDHHC and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations oversight, enforcement, and disciplinary authority over licensed interpreters; and
  • Creating the Interpreters for the Deaf Fund with revenue generated from fees and penalties paid by interpreters who are in violation of state standards.
Under the new law, any complaint filed by a person who is deaf or hard-of-hearing against an interpreter can be reported.  If subsequent investigations confirm the allegations, licensed interpreters will be disciplined as outlined by law.
Interpreters who are not licensed by the State can continue to interpret at the request of an individual as long as they inform the deaf individual that they are not licensed.  The same general rule applies in situations when the individual who is hearing impaired agrees to the use of video remote interpreting or other forms of communication other than licensed interpreter services. 
The law exempts interpreters who provide services in religious activities, emergency situations, and students who are supervised by qualified interpreters.  Interpreters who work in education settings will continue to follow standards set by the Illinois State Board of Education.
The law was enacted coinciding with Deaf Awareness Day on September 12th. More than 40 exhibitors from social services agencies and businesses filled the James R. Thompson Center Atrium in Chicago.  Deaf Awareness Day participants offered information and resources for people who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing.  Additionally, the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) sponsored a public forum to educate the community on the services offered by DRS and the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission.
SB 259 becomes effective immediately.


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