Educating the Deaf in America is an expensive proposition — especially in a modern mainstream setting with Hearing students and interpreters are required.  Educating the college-capable Deaf is an even more daunting project because of the massive amount of money it takes to educate just a single Deaf student.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is now 22 years old, but that Act still doesn’t begin to really protect the rights of the disabled.  All the Act does is try to level the playing field of fair play by mandating equal access and opportunity but, in many cases, if you want full and verified ADA protection, you have to hire a lawyer and sue.  That’s an expensive proposition for any disabled person to conjure.

Let’s do the math.  To educate a Deaf student in a mainstream college, you’d expect to spend at least $75,000.00USD per semester only on interpreters.  That’s $150,000.00USD a year.  Multiply that by a four-year undergraduate degree, and you’re paying $600,000.USD in interpreter fees.

That price doesn’t include books or tuition or room and board.  We also have to consider that, because of communication issues, many Deaf students do not finish their degree and graduate in four years.  Add two years of additional schooling, and your price only for interpreters for an undergraduate degree totals in at a confounding $900,000.00USD.

Astonishing, isn’t it?

Don’t forget to factor in dropout rates and other indices of failure.  It isn’t unreasonable that $500,000.00USD can be spent on interpreter fees and then the student flunks out or decides to quit school.  All that money is unrecoverable.  You can’t bill the Deaf student, or any disabled person seeking services, for not following through.

The ADA assures the Deaf student doesn’t foot that million dollar bill for interpreters — just like the wheelchair handicapped don’t pay for creating designated parking or for ramp access for local businesses, and just as the Blind do not pay for talking crosswalk signals — so who pays that incredible sum of money?

You do.

And the schools — if you take Federal money, you’re on the hook for paying for Federal ADA compliance.

And sometimes, State and Federal rehabilitation agencies will step in and cover some of the costs.

The schools do not want to pay a million dollars per Deaf student for interpreters, but under the ADA, they must help share the cost and are often the vendor of last resort if no other monies are forthcoming.  That’s why you often see a concerted effort by schools to force Deaf students into using Open Captioning, or grouping Deaf students together in the same class, and sometimes just flat-out refusing to pay for interpreters and inviting a lawsuit to “make them” pay.

I understand it is economically untenable to pay a million dollars in interpreting fees for one Deaf student’s undergraduate education.  If you have a few Deaf students in different degree programs, you could easily bankrupt the disability services office of any school.

What’s the solution?

Do we begin to deny higher schooling services to the Deaf because they cost too much to educate?

Will there be requirements in place in a generation or two that no manual sign language Deaf will be educated at the university level unless they are Cochlear Implanted and do not require expensive American Sign Language interpreters?

The Deaf Ghetto of the past is precisely what the ADA is trying to fight to avoid today.  In antiquity, the Deaf were regionalized and confined to a non-interactive world.  They were forced to seek pity to survive and to live in poverty.  Nobody would hire them.  No one wanted to pay to educate them.

Schools like Gallaudet University eventually were founded to give the Deaf one pathway for success in higher education where all the instructors used ASL, but the stigma of the disability is still a strong and expensive force in the mainstream marketplace and we, as taxpayers, ultimately have no choice but to continuing paying for these “expensive Deaf people” because it is our duty as citizens to help provide equal access to everyone so not one single person is left behind.

If we do not help, if the schools and taxpayers do not pay — then the ADA means nothing — and that means there has been no real equal access civil rights gains for anyone, let alone the Deaf and other disabled in America, the past 22 years… and counting.


  1. I would have hoped by now that technology would exist to be a digital interpreter — like to digitally project the interpretation on a board. If there is software that allows us to dictate speech and have it turn into text, why can’t there be software to take speech and turn it into ASL?

    (Talking crosswalks are sometimes quite rude, by the way.. the way they say WAIT and then say WAIT a second time, but louder and more imperatively…)

    1. ASL isn’t English. That’s the problem. You need live ears to listen, and then translate, the spoken English into a level of ASL the student can understand. Not all Deaf are able to comprehend English sentence structure and their fluency in ASL also greatly varies based on exposure and regionalization. That’s why the interpreters are paid so much and why you have at least two interpreters provided for each class session.

      We have new speaking crosswalks in Jersey City and they’re strange and rude. For 10 seconds they say, “Crosswalk Light On. Crosswalk light on.” Then it stops speaking and there’s a visual countdown across the street starting at 19 seconds. If you are Blind, I’m not sure how that initial warning helps you cross when you have no clue how much time is left for you to get to the long other side.

      1. That makes sense. Perhaps it would be worth it for Universities to offer free schooling to students who can spend part of their day doing ASL interpretation for them.

        The speaking crosswalks that I have seen say wait a few times and then when it is ready for you to cross, it makes a loud da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da drumming kind of sound until it is time for you to have to WAIT…. WAIT… again.

        1. That’s what a lot of companies try to do to get around the ADA — use free or student interpreters. Unfortunately, students are not certified and not, in any way, capable of providing proper interpreting services. It takes years of proper training to be certified and that, in itself, is an expensive process.

          The Jersey City talking crosswalks are dangerous. The speaker is also high up in the air, and not at ear level, so if you have a five corners crosswalk, it can be a little confusing which crosswalk is talking to you and telling you to walk. Pick the wrong one, and you’ll get run over!

  2. I once saw a young blind woman standing at an intersection, cane in hand. I knew she must be waiting to cross. I was watching her body language as I was waiting for my green light. I was looking for signs of ‘I’m gonna go for it’, and I never saw any……. but my instincts said “Get out of your cozy little seeing Jeep, and help the woman already!!” Yet something held me back. She couldn’t see me, to assess my validity as a non-threatening person. Sometimes one can be offended as they see themselves as self sufficient (with reason – they’ve worked hard to attain what status they have) and don’t appreciate meddling interference.

    So I was left with guilt and indecision as I slowly made my way through the intersection, wondering if what I did was right.

    Tulsa, in the city proper, doesn’t have the speaking signs. The downtown area may; they’ve made a lot of changes and improvements in the last ten years. I was in the ‘poorer’ section of Tulsa that doesn’t get so much political or financial attention.
    Tulsa seems to have access to schooling for the Deaf. I hear quite a bit of coverage regarding specialty areas of education. I’m pleased to see the efforts made in this area to that end.

    I was once acquainted with a young lady who was engaged in teaching ASL and I was fascinated with the concept 20 years ago. It’s still a language I toy with learning.

    1. In that situation, Lillian, you can just ask the Blind person if they need help or not and they’ll tell you. If they’re out and about, they are not shy.

      When we lived and worked in a Deaf/Blind building, the Deaf/Blind were taught to stand at a corner with their cane and when they wanted to cross, they were to blow a whistle until someone came to help them. Because they were Deaf/Blind, they had a small note card around their neck that said they were Deaf/Blind and to place their hand on your elbow to guide them. The sighted residents, both Hearing and Deaf, would always be on the lookout for the Deaf/Blind because they really could not manage crossing any street alone without direct help. The regular neighborhood residents were also good about running to a street corner whenever they’d hear a whistling blowing.

      The speaking signs are sort of new. I know the Blind must get a lot of training in their use, but I find them to be more confusing than helpful — but I guess they didn’t make them for me…

      Educating the Deaf is a wildly complicated endeavor. The push now is to de-institutionalize Deaf education to help them get along better in the mainstream world and now, with almost every Deaf baby born getting a Cochlear Implant, the likelihood that a standalone Deaf School will survive the next 15 years are nil.

      1. How effective are Cochlear Implants?

        If they are effective, I would think they would be desired.
        I haven’t investigated the cost of the procedure, yet it seems it is a plausible option (to me).

        I once heard a story (it could have been on PBS or a news item, I don’t remember the exact source; it was quite a while ago) about a young Deaf boy getting a Cochlear Implant and how excited he was when he first heard his mother’s voice. I can only imagine how that day will forever be implanted in his mind.

        My first thought was similar to Gordon’s when I read this article – speech to text on a screen yet even that isn’t a plausible option for many.
        This is a large problem that you delineate, and you are more keenly aware than many of us because of your position. Thank you for the enlightenment.

        1. I don’t think we really know the efficacy of Cochlear Implants — only because they’re being done by default now. Years ago, the surgery was $56,000.00 and now I think it’s half that.

          Can the government require Cochlear Implants for Deaf students who want to attend college? “We’ll give you a free implant, but you don’t get any interpreters.” I have a sense that sort of requirement is coming down the road, though my wife disagrees and says that the government cannot require a surgical procedure in order to provide educational services. We’ll see…

          I do know a lot of Deaf who had the Cochlear Implant surgery and did not find it effective. I have yet to meet a truly “Deaf Speaking ASL person” who loves their CI.

          It’s easy to assume and then recommend — but the real world is much more unforgiving. There are a lot of agencies that do not want to provide interpreters for the Deaf, even though they are required by law to provide them. They are betting they can just wish away the Deaf person with delays and paperwork to force them someplace else that is more caring and, unfortunately, that lawbreaking often works.

    1. That’s an interesting site, Lillian. I’m not sure if the petitions are serious or a joke. I found something like 14 petitions for States to secede from the USA. How silly!

      1. It’s the official White House petition web site, where people who get enough signatures get a response from the White House — even silly petitions get their attention. I’m signing the ASL petition.

        1. Yes, I know what the site is — I just find it foolish that ridiculous petitions are given the same standing as serious positions. Not every idea needs to be publicly ransacked and voted on — some of these Racial Hatreds do not deserve extended promotion by the State.

          These mass of these petitions lack serious intention and intellectual persuasion — so they’re really just textual emoticons served by your government to make you feel better and participatory when nothing truly important will really change. It’s all a Democracy Charade.

          1. Not necessarily:

            Google said on Friday that it would not comply with a White House request to reconsider the anti-Islam video that has set off violent protests in the Arab world in light of its rules banning hate speech on YouTube, which it owns.

            Google said it had already determined that the video did not violate its terms of service regarding hate speech. In this case, the video stays up because it is against the Islam religion but not Muslim people.


      2. This is what I got after signing :

        Thank for signing this petition!

        You can help ensure that this petition will be reviewed by the White House and receive an official response by asking your friends and family to sign the petition as well.

        Send an email to your friends and family or use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to help promote this petition.

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