I have always been an advocate for myself. When my two Deaf children entered public school system, I found myself advocating for their needs, too. Most of the personnel did not have much experiences dealing with Deaf students, let alone two students who are Deaf- and ASL-culturally savvy. Most of the elementary school teachers were wonderful and amenable to listening to me when I shared concerns. It was smooth riding till my older son entered middle school. We were dealing with a new high school district with new personnel.
There were two specific incidents where I was truly grateful when I had someone advocate for me on behalf of my children.
First was my son kept getting unskilled and unqualified interpreters because there was no one in the school district who could evaluate their American Sign Language fluency. I asked if we could have an opportunity to assess the candidates’ fluency. The director of special education services told me that the school district would not allow parents to hire staff. I could not convince them that I was not hiring them but giving feedback to their ASL fluency. By the third interpreter – which could not be replaced without an IEP, I became truly frustrated. I told them that they were wasting my, my son’s, the school personnel, the school district’s staff, and the interpreting candidates when they did not allow me to evaluate the candidates’ ASL skills. It so happened that the middle school got a new vice principal who attended the third IEP conference in one year.
Afterwards, she made a point to sit down with me and asked me what the issue was since she did not have the history or background. I asked her who in the entire school district was qualified to evaluate the candidates for ASL interpreting job. I told her that all I needed to do was to spend 15 minutes with the interpreter before being able to determine whether they can do the job. Bless her, the vice principal understood the situation and, best of all, fixed it for once and for all.
In high school, there was a situation where the interpreter had a personality conflict with my son. It was creating issues where the interpreter would be getting my son in trouble deliberately. The interpreter was well-liked by the principal, and I could not convince him that the interpreter’s actions and behaviors were totally unprofessional and inappropriate. They wanted to suspend my son, but I refused and called for an IEP. I knew we were in for some heavy discussions, and I was emotionally invested in the issue. So I asked for a friend who was a lawyer to come with me. She has a Deaf daughter so she was familiar with ASL, and classroom interpreting situations.
The principal and the teacher had a laundry list of behavior issues that were mostly common with all students like passing notes, talking with other students, and not paying attention to the interpreter. My advocate stopped them from finishing the laundry list and asked them to focus on the conflict with the interpreter. That was when the representative from the school district announced that the interpreter was fired! Whew! My son got an interpreter that worked out well for him the next two years.
I have had many other situations where others had advocated so well for me and for my children, but these two stood out for me because of how the issue quickly got resolved. I am eternally grateful to these two advocates.