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August 29, 2001

Dear Ms. Efird:

This is in reply to your letter regarding the recently published final Regulations Governing Interpreter Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I have discussed your concerns with Ron Lanier, the Director of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH). Based on my review of the information you provided and my conversation with Mr. Lanier, I am confident that VDDHH is operating its programs and services with integrity and that the agency has made sound policy decisions.

I understand that you have concerns about the new Grievance Procedure that is included in the Regulations, however, I assure you that many state agencies have established internal grievance procedures as a means of ensuring fair and equitable program operations. While the courts certainly can and should be used for violations of the law, the resolution of complaints concerning state agency programs can and should be handled by impartial grievance panels. In your letter to Mr. Lanier, you refer to Virginia Code ß8.01-44.3, which relates to the divulgence of communications by qualified interpreters and communications assistants. While this section does provide for a measure of judicial relief, it does not address the full scope of the Code of Ethics adopted by VDDHH, nor does it provide recourse for the agency to address concerns about interpreters who have been deemed qualified through the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening program but who have violated one or more of the tenets of the Code of Ethics. When VQAS was established, consumer feedback indicated that the ethical standard for the screening was of critical importance. Consumers who have complaints about the ethical practices of interpreters who are certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or the National Association of the Deaf may take those grievances to the certifying bodies and expect some resolution. Without the formal grievance procedure that VDDHH has included in its new regulations, consumers with complaints about interpreters screened in a program supported with the consumersí tax dollars would not have similar recourse. I am sure you will agree that not every grievance needs to be elevated to the courts but that some level of review and action is appropriate and necessary.

In your comments to Mr. Lanier, you also note concern about the increase in the overall fees for the VQAS. While the fee increase may seem to be substantial, it is important to note that the fee does not begin to cover the full cost to the agency of administering the Performance Assessment. Any agency of the Commonwealth may charge a fee for services as long as the fee does not exceed the actual cost of the service. I have consulted with VDDHH and they have demonstrated that the actual cost of administering the VQAS Performance Assessment exceeds $500. By charging $60 for each Performance Assessment, the agency is not exceeding the costs of administration and has acted appropriately.

You are correct when you note that the Code of Virginia establishes a VQAS level as one of the measures for determining a qualified interpreter. However, the determination of what constitutes a VQAS Screening Level is left to the Department to establish through regulation. Over the course of years of program operation, VDDHH has received comments from consumers and state agencies, who use the services of qualified interpreters, indicating that interpreters who have achieved a VQAS Level 1 do not consistently demonstrate a skill level necessary to meet the demands of the complex interactions in state government. For this reason, the agency has determined that the Novice Interpreter designation will more appropriately recognize the developing skills of these interpreters without impairing the ability for state agencies to secure the services of interpreters who can provide effective communication in a variety of situations. This action is not in conflict with the existing Code language.

No interpreters will be "stripped of their credentials" as a result of the new regulations. Current screening levels will remain valid for three years from the date of issue as they always have. In addition, the Department has demonstrated to my office that only 94 individuals would be negatively impacted by the change from Level 1 to Novice Interpreter. While many interpreters have at least one Screening Level 1 in interpreting or transliterating, many of those also carry a Level 2 or higher in the other skill area or from a more recent screening.

Finally, you have expressed concerns about the Departmentís decision to maintain the minimum score as the determining factor in awarding screening levels. This standard was established when the program was initiated and was based on feedback at that time from consumers and interpreters. VQAS was established as a diagnostic assessment, intended to assist interpreters in identifying areas of strength and weakness. I concur with the Departmentís position that it would be misleading to present an interpreter who has minimal receptive skills but strong expressive skills as having a higher skill level based on the stronger skills. Consumers who are deaf and who use interpreters in critical life situations need to know that the interpreters they use can accurately convey what a hearing person says to them and what they say to the hearing person. If one of these areas is significantly weaker than the other, both the deaf consumer and the hearing person in the situation need to know that.

Thank you for sharing your concerns. Citizen input is an important part of ensuring that Virginia government operates in an ethical and fair manner, and I am confident that VDDHH has done so in promulgating this regulation.

Very truly yours,

Louis F. Rossiter, Ph.D.

Secretary of Health and Human Resources

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