Northern Essex Certificate Program Fills ‘Dire’ Need for Sign Language Interpreters

Kevin Fleese serves as the coordinator for Northern Essex's Deaf Studies program. (Courtesy photograph)

Kevin Fleese serves as the coordinator for Northern Essex’s Deaf Studies program. (Courtesy photograph)

A new program at Northern Essex is the first of its kind in the state to certify sign language interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing community. The program, says Deaf Studies program coordinator Kevin Fleese, helps fill a “dire” need for interpreters.

“Today, the ratio of interpreters to the number of deaf and hard of hearing is grossly disproportionate,” said Fleese, who oversees the dozen students enrolled in the certificate program through the Deaf Studies Department.

Students already hold either an associate or bachelor’s degree, and are preparing for entry-level American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting work. The course is 15 credits and spans two years. Students typically spend two days a week in the classroom, and a third in the field.

Fleese said the Northern Essex program helps students stand out to prospective employers, while providing a much-needed service to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Northern Essex also offers an associate degree in deaf studies. On the Haverhill campus, students are able to take advantage of the services provided by the regional office of Gallaudet University, the Washington, D.C.-based college designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.