Helping Hands

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As a Child of Deaf Adults, Ivette Cedillo says her experiences as a CODA throughout her childhood immersed her into deaf culture, and would solidify her career choice as she got older.

Deciding on her own at the age of 6 to be the bridge between her deaf parents and the hearing world, Cedillo, 24, said she was asked to grow up quickly. If they were at a restaurant, she would order on her parents’ behalf, she said. She helped her father with small repairs around the house all the while building the way the family would eventually communicate with one another.

She would eventually help create their personal family language through “home signs” until she began formal American Sign Language (ASL) classes in high school.

“Both of my parents are from Mexico, so they really didn’t have a good support system in learning the language,” Cedillo said. “They used home signs or they learned signs from their friends, and that’s how they were able to communicate.”

Cedillo said she is fulfilling one personal mission she feels she was born to do; South Texas College just gave her the tools to get there. When she joined the ASL and Interpreting Studies program in the fall, she joined a segment of the college specially designed to provide students with the opportunity to develop and enhance their practical communication skills for careers in languages and cultural studies.

The program is also a linchpin for the community. Students are required to do 96 hours of volunteer service per semester to complete the course. They gain a bit of real world experience and use their skills to assist deaf people in a variety of settings, according to program faculty.

“I educate students on the different routes they may take as certified interpreters,” said Jovonne Delgado, coordinator for the Interpreter Training Program and Deaf Support Specialist Program. “However, it has been my experience that most of the interpreters are working for agencies.”

Upon graduation, students from the program are qualified to provide services through different agencies, colleges and universities, public school sectors, or become independent contractors.

There are currently more than 12,000 deaf people that reside in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Valley Association for Independent Living (VAIL), a nonprofit organization that services residents with disabilities.

Sign language interpreters are very much in demand and are sought out in order to assist in a variety of venues, including public schools, hospitals, and courtrooms, to name a few. Sign language interpreters are needed anywhere communication takes place.

Delgado says it’s all about instilling a “deaf heart” within the students themselves in two distinct degree plans at STC. The program offers a Sign Language Interpreter Associate of Applied Science as well as certificates for Deaf Support Specialists and Trilingual Interpreters.

While sign language interpreters are professional communicators needed for various agencies and venues, deaf support specialists advocate for the deaf themselves.

“While many of the courses can be taken within both the Interpreter Training and Deaf Support Specialist Program, the two pathways are quite different,” Delgado said. “We cannot have students in both roles, and it’s very important they understand each role and how it affects the community. We want to see our deaf consumers rights met, and it affects us, because we have what we call a deaf heart. Our heart is with them, and when we see them being taken advantage of or when we see their rights being violated, it hurts us as professionals.

“The South Texas College Deaf Support Specialist Program is fortunate to have Mr. (Jorge) Solis heading that program because he has done a phenomenal job training our DSS graduates on effective advocating for our deaf community.”

For more information about South Texas College Sign Language Interpreter or Deaf Support Specialist Programs, please contact Jovonne Delgado at (956) 872-2015 or jovonned@southtexascollege.edu.