Sharon Hill is patient as she demonstrates a simple greeting in American Sign Language.
“Let’s start with introducing ourselves. You can just do a wave or from your head a nice salute,” she instructs. “So it’s ‘Hello, my name—and then finger spell your name.”
Hill is the program coordinator for the University of Houston American Sign Language and Interpreting Program. If you want to get a bachelor’s degree in that area, the options are limited.
“If you wanted a bachelor’s degree, and you’re here in the state of Texas, the University of Houston is it,” Hill said. “There is no other university offering a four-year bachelor’s degree in American sign language interpreting.”
Since 2009, the UH American Sign Language and Interpreting Program has prepared students for state and national certification. With 13 percent of any city’s population hearing impaired, their skills are needed.
“Let’s say, for example, that we’re talking about Houston. That means there are about 273,000 individuals who have a hearing loss. Of that figure about three percent are profoundly deaf,” she said. “In the entire state of Texas, there are only 1,500 certified interpreters. That’s it.”
Students in the UH program study language and interpreting, consecutive interpreting, plus volunteer and intern with area organizations. To date, two cohorts have graduated from the program.
“We are hoping this program grows exponentially. We’ve had people from as far as New York contact us about the program,” Hill said. “We are very excited about the opportunity to grow the program further, and the door is open wide.
American Sign Language and Interpreting is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.