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Wisconsin’s deaf community to gain expanded protection when sign language bill becomes law

Wisconsin sign language interpreters and those who use their services celebrated on June 26 when the bipartisan Assembly Bill 250 (AB 250) passed both houses of the state legislature.

AB 250 provides for a more appropriate scope of practice for sign language interpreters in the state, gives more protections for members of the Deaf community, and helps provide the level of access that members of the Deaf community in Wisconsin deserve. AB 250 also helps attract new and retain current sign language interpreters by increasing access to sign language interpreter licensure exams in Wisconsin.

“AB 250 is an example of the best legislation that can be accomplished through bipartisan work in the state legislature,” said Representative Brostoff. “The passage of this bill is an important step forward for Deaf rights in our state.”

Authored by Senators Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) and Representatives Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) and Jonathan Brostoff (D- Milwaukee), legislation now needs only the signature of Governor Tony Evers to become law.

“Passage of AB 250 is a tremendous victory for the Deaf and Interpreting communities,” said Representative Skowronski. “This bill will bring jobs to Wisconsin and help get jobs back to those whose licenses have expired.”

The sign language interpreter profession has experienced strain over the last four years, due to a moratorium on the Registry for Interpreters for the Deaf examination. Under the current law, entry level interpreters may renew their licenses twice before taking this test to advance. If they do not advance, they must leave the profession. This has caused the loss of over 100 sign language interpreters – people who could get their jobs back when AB 250 is signed by Governor Evers.

“For those of us who have the use of all five senses, it’s hard to imagine how the inability to hear would change how we communicate, and how much we would come to count on another person – an interpreter – to share our thoughts, ideas, emotions, and needs with the broader world,” said Senator Testin “The changes in this bill will ensure that Deaf Community’s voice won’t be silenced.”

AB 250 makes entry level licenses indefinitely renewable, and statutorily allows the introduction of other examinations in the state. It transitions the Sign Language Interpreter Advisory Council to the Sign Language Interpreter Advisory Committee, and establishes criteria for advanced and intermediate licensure levels for the hearing and the deaf.

“We owe it to Wisconsinites who rely on sign language interpretation to protect their health, assert their civil rights, and to otherwise meaningfully engage in society to provide clear and effective licensing and enforcement for those who wish to provide these professional services,” added Senator LaTonya Johnson. “AB 250 will advance the profession, provide safeguards for consumers in high risk settings, and ensure a voice for members of the deaf community in determining how their interpreters will be regulated in the future.”

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