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New interpreter coordinator joins DBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services

Deb WalkerDBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services welcomed new statewide interpreter coordinator Deb Walker in February. Deb brings almost 20 years of experience as a certified interpreter by the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. In 2003, she completed the Alabama Department of Mental Health’s Mental Health Interpreter Training. She has since been involved in the program as an instructor. Deb also held the “Qualified Mental Health Interpreter” designation (awarded by the State of Alabama) for six years and served as the practicum coordinator for the Alabama Office of Deaf Services for three years while working at Greil Psychiatric Hospital in the segregated Deaf Unit. Deb has lived in Georgia for four years and worked as a community interpreting provider before joining DBHDD.

Deb joins DBHDD’s Deaf Services coordinator Amy Peterson and community liaison Barry Critchfield. The Office of Deaf Services provides access to DBHDD services for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind. “Our office is working to make sure access is provided so that people who are deaf can receive services equivalent to those accessed by the non-deaf population,” Walker said. “We are striving to eliminate communication as a barrier to accessing services.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act places the incumbency on providers to offer interpreters for individuals who are deaf. DBHDD’s role is to facilitate training and coordination for interpreters and to help providers find easy access to certified interpreters.

“We rely on mental health interpreters to facilitate communication between the service provider and the consumer. When it comes to mental health for people who are Deaf, the interpreter has to know American Sign Language (ASL) well enough to be able to distinguish subtle variances in communication,” Walker said.  

Currently, Georgia’s mental health interpreters attend the same 40-hour training course provided by the Alabama Department of Mental Health that Deb completed in 2003. DBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services is working to bring the next two steps of credentialing - supervision and evaluation - to Georgia. Under this new system, participants will continue to attend the course in Alabama, then return to Georgia to complete a 40-hour practicum and an evaluation. All three steps will be necessary to carry the designation of “certified mental health interpreter.”  

“Any time you bring an interpreter into a mental health assignment, both the Deaf individual and the clinician have to believe that what is being communicated to each other through the interpreter is correct. How do they know, however, that what is being relayed to and from is accurate if no one is able to monitor the interpretation?” said Walker. “Our goal is to make sure that Georgia has a standard by which both parties can feel confident that the sign language interpreter is adequately trained to handle the nuances that are unique mental health appointments. We have a long, exciting road ahead of us but our sleeves are rolled up, and we’re moving forward.”

For more information about DBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services, contact Deb Walker