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Carolyn J. Stephens

Carolyn J. Stephens

As the Lead Sign Language Interpreter for Student Disability Services, I am responsible for scheduling interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing students in the academic setting. I help to fulfill requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act by interpreting classroom lectures, presentations, and other communication that occurs in the academic setting. This equal access empowers deaf and hard of hearing students to make the most of their goal toward achieving a college degree.

Sign language interpreters follow a Code of Professional Conduct which, among other things, states that interpreters "adhere to standards of confidential communication" (Tenet 1) and "refrain from providing counsel, advice, or personal opinions" (Tenet 2.5). My job is to "render the message faithfully by conveying the content and spirit of what is being communicated, using language most readily understood by consumers" (Tenet 2.3).

The language used by the Deaf community here in the U.S. is American Sign Language (ASL) --  a rich, visual language distinct from English that linguists describe as having its own grammatical rules, sentence structure and cultural nuances. Other manually coded signed English systems exist which follow English word order and can be transliterated.

Student Disability Services has provided additional suggestions and a PowerPoint presentation about working with an interpreter. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have more questions. I love to share information!

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Education Philosophy

 I like to take a more holistic approach to teaching by incorporating thematic units across the subjects for authentic and meaningful experiences. "Because terminology and concepts cut across the subject areas in thematic units, this model helps to build deaf youngsters' vocabulary and knowledge structures and provides opportunities to explore the relevance of ideas to their own lives" (Schirmer, 2000, p. 82). In conjunction with this, a balanced literacy approach will benefit my students as I spend time teaching them the skills needed to read literature and to write. As such, I support the use of trade books (as opposed to basal readers) so that children can become engrossed in a book, read something of interest, apply it to their own experiences, and acquire vocabulary more naturally. I am a firm believer in explanation -- explaining why we need to learn certain skills and what we can use them for; explaining an agenda for the day or unexpected change; explaining why we respect and love each other. The list goes on and on. Explanation will expose children to logical thought processes, prepare them for what's ahead, and invoke empathy in personal interactions with their peers.

I would like to incorporate student-centered activities for inquiry-based learning in my classroom. Therefore, I plan to use discovery learning, "an approach to instruction through which students interact with their environment-by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments" (Ormrod, 1995, p. 442). Students are more likely to remember concepts when they discover them on their own. With the ability to follow a scientific method to answer questions, students will be equipped to solve practical, real-life problems for the rest of their lives.

Although I succeeded with traditional lectures, I want to lecture less in my own classroom in lieu of active learning so that my students gain skills for life as they construct meaning through experience and discussion. As opposed to passively watching a teacher, Deaf students learn better when they are engaged and active, interactive, or participative (Boyd, & George, 1973; Lang, Stinson, Basile, Kavanagh, & Liu, 1998; Quinsland, 1986; Sousa, 2000).

I am grateful for the technology available to us today that can be used to enhance our students' learning and serve as motivation for their involvement in a lesson. I can easily incorporate multiple forms of technology into my classroom to facilitate student's language learning as well. Every conversation, every activity, every book is an opportunity for language and vocabulary development in both English and ASL.

In sum, I have several goals as a teacher of deaf students: 1) model ASL and English to support students' language development; 2) facilitate inquiry-based learning of essential core curriculum skills and knowledge; 3) demonstrate love and respect of each other; and 4) expect success and provide my students the means to achieve their dreams!


Boyd, E., & George, K. (1973). The effect of science inquiry on the abstract categorization behavior of deaf children. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 10, 91-99.

Lang, H.G., Stinson, M.S., Basile, M., Kavanagh, F., & Liu, Y. (1998). Learning styles of deaf college students and teaching behaviors of their instructors. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 16-27.

Ormrod, J. (1995). Educational psychology: Principles and applications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Quinsland, L.K. (1986). Experiential learning vs. lecture learning with postsecondary hearing-impaired learners: a study of the potential need for change to occur in instructional methodology. Ph.D. Dissertation, Walden University.

Schirmer, B. R. (2000). Language and literacy development in children who are deaf (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Sousa, D. A. (2000). How the brain learns: A classroom teacher's guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Deaf Education Communication Philosophy

Deaf children have the tools needed to succeed when they acquire language from birth. Because of the difficulty accessing auditory information even with amplification, deaf children can more easily learn American Sign Language (ASL) -- the natural and complex visual language of the deaf. Deaf children can use ASL as a foundation upon which to learn English as a second language when they are presented with consistent and fluent ASL language exposure. Marschark (2001) notes that "deaf children who were exposed to sign language during the early years tend to have more effective communication experiences and do well linguistically, cognitively, and socially" (as cited in Andrews, Leigh, & Weiner, 2004, p. 166).

On the other hand, if parents and educators are able to provide a complete language model using some sort of Manually Coded English (MCE) sign system, then this could also be successful for the deaf child. However, using such a contrived code and presumably simultaneous communication (sim-com) often means that either some signs or some English words are left out due to the cumbersome nature of a signed code. The child, therefore, still does not have complete language input which may cause delayed language development. He or she may also have more difficulty finding qualified MCE interpreters in the community and communicating with others in the Deaf community especially as adults.

Easterbrooks and Baker (2002) explain the Bilingual-Bicultural philosophy as a way to teach deaf children:
The Bilingual-Bicultural philosophy is founded on the premise that deaf children learn more efficiently through their unimpaired visual channel than through their impaired auditory pathways. The most efficient visual language for deaf students is ASL. Through learning ASL, the brain develops the plasticity and connections upon which a second language (English) is learned. English is taught through print in written form. (p. 15)

I am not opposed to using a signed English system to tie the printed text to a sign, but it is important that deaf children comprehend the text; thus, ASL is most likely needed to bridge the concept with the English phrasing. While I believe that ASL is the most natural language for a deaf child, I also believe that deaf children should be afforded every opportunity possible! We should not restrict them to one communication mode or the other but let them take advantage of every way to communicate that they so choose. Instead of waiting to find out that a deaf child is an "oral failure" and then beginning sign language use, parents should give their child the opportunity from the beginning to learn a full signed language.

This belief reflects the original intent of the total communication philosophy. Contrary to critics' claims, "ASL does not interfere with the acquisition of speech or written language -- instead it serves as a bridge" (Easterbrooks & Baker, 2002, p. 64). Speech and speech-reading should also be taught but not at the expense of the child's education. Multiple forms of communication and the option to interact with both hearing and deaf people not only fosters psychosocial development and educational progress, but it also opens up doors for these students later as adults in the work place and community.

Teachers should focus on teaching core content in the way the child understands best. When speech and audition become the emphasis of a deaf child's education, these students miss out (especially if this method is not fruitful for the individual because of lack of access to sound and speech). A well-rounded, quality education equitable to that of hearing peers is what all deaf children deserve.

I also believe that ASL should be taught to deaf students just as hearing students are formally taught the rules of the English language in American schools. Deaf students need the addition of ASL to the curriculum which can incorporate an element of Deaf Culture Studies, thus enriching their knowledge and supporting their self-concept. Deaf students may not learn Deaf culture at home if they come from a hearing family, so they must learn about Deaf culture at school (Schirmer, 2000).

Overall, the communication mode deaf children use should play to their strengths as an individual. With consistent access to the language (whether visual and/or auditory), family support, and meaningful language learning opportunities, a deaf child will be able to develop schema to learn about the surrounding world.


Andrews, J. F., Leigh, I. W., & Weiner, M. T. (2004). Deaf people: Evolving perspectives from psychology, education, and sociology. Boston: Pearson Education.

Easterbrooks, S. R., & Baker, S. (2002). Language learning in children who are deaf or hard of hearing. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Schirmer, B. R. (2000). Language and literacy development in children who are deaf (2nd ed., Chapter 2). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

It's All Greek to Me

As an educational interpreter in the post-secondary setting, I come across a lot of technical vocabulary that requires multiple methods to convey the concept and the term itself. To tackle this, I use a combination of fingerspelling, classifiers, description, and established signs. One realm in the academic setting that left me dissatisfied with these techniques and inspired my search for a better solution was Greek symbols. They are everywhere -- in the physics classroom, calculus lectures, engineering calculations, statistic formulas, speech pathology lessons, and even on the bumper stickers of cars on campus!

Previously my team interpreters and I had been fingerspelling the pronunciation of each symbol and chaining it to a descriptive classifier or tracing the shape with our index finger. According to Supalla's (1986), our interpretation included size-and-shape (SASS) classifiers in which "parts of the hand are morphemes which individually represent various aspects of the referent object" (p. 184). These SASS classifiers were sometimes traced or modeled using chaining, "a technique for connecting texts such as a sign, a printed or written word, or a fingerspelled word" (Humphries & MacDougall, 1999-2000, p. 90) used in combination to convey the concept. The more we did this, the less clear each symbol became to me. For example phi (Φ) could easily be confused with theta (Θ) when traced in open space.

I decided to remedy the ambiguity by looking up the symbols on some of the interpreting resource and ASL dictionary websites; however, they were nowhere to be found. Then I changed my perspective from looking at them as foreign math symbols to seeing them as letters used in the Greek alphabet. If there is a Greek alphabet, surely Deaf Greek people would have a corresponding manual alphabet so they could fingerspell? My assumption proved fruitful and I was able to find the Greek manual alphabet or ΔΑΚΤΥΛΙΚΟ ΑΛΦΑΒΗΤΟ online. Greek Manual Alphabet

If you have seen the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know that Gus Portokalos would tell you, "Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek." How true. If you read aloud the upper case Greek words ΔΑΚΤΥΛΙΚΟ ΑΛΦΑΒΗΤΟ, you will see that it sounds like "dactyliko alphabeto." The root words here are dactyl (meaning finger) and alphabet (a loan word into the English language). And there you have it -- dactylology alphabet. The manual alphabet!


As I began to memorize the Greek alphabet and practice fingerspelling, I realized I would need to modify production of some of the signed Greek letters for contrast with similar ASL letters. For instance, I differentiated alpha (α) from a by forming the same handshape but adding a small icthus symbol motion. For the Greek letters beta (β), epsilon (ε), iota (ι), kappa (κ), omicron (ο), rho (ρ), sigma (Σ), and upsilon (Υ), I added a circular motion to the handshape for contrast with their corresponding similar ASL handshapes. Theta (Θθ) ended up looking more like the ASL sign for THURSDAY with an additional twist of the wrist. I made sure that mu (Μμ) and nu (Νν) were exaggerated with the fingertips pointing down since they looked similar to the letters m and n. Lastly, I found that some students and interpreters still preferred to use the tracing classifier for capital sigma (Σ) and delta (Δ) based on the context of the class, the frequency of use, and the associated meanings ("sum" and "change" respectively).

Further Practice

The figures provided in this article can easily be downloaded online and transferred to your smart phone, laptop, or tablet for quick reference while interpreting a class. While practicing for faster recall, however, you may prefer photos of the handshapes or watching YouTube videos for a more enhanced visual of the fingerspelling. Here are some recommended resources:

The video of modern, native pronunciation can also serve as a good practice tool to quiz yourself on letter identification since the printed letters are displayed before they are spoken.


Once you have become more familiar with fingerspelling the Greek manual alphabet, you can put the knowledge into practice in the classroom. However, the student(s) you interpret for most likely have no exposure to these fingerspelled Greek letters and need to be introduced to the concept. In my case, I gave the students a printed copy of the ΔΑΚΤΥΛΙΚΟ ΑΛΦΑΒΗΤΟ diagram before the class and briefly explained that I would be using the Greek fingerspelling when appropriate during the lecture. To give the students time to acclimate to the fingerspelled Greek letters, I continued the chaining technique by fingerspelling the pronunciation of the Greek letter and introducing the fingerspelled sign in conjunction with oral production/mouthing. Repeated exposure assists in vocabulary development, so it may take multiple instances of chaining before the student easily recognizes the fingerspelled Greek letter. In the long run, both the student and interpreter benefit from the concise use of the manual Greek alphabet during interpreted lectures.

As always, we should follow the RID CPC by "using language most readily understood by consumers" (Tenet 2.3) and adapt to student preferences regarding the Greek symbols. Some students may rather see the traced or SASS classifiers or to establish their own sign for use in your interpretation. As Gus Portokalos would say -- if all else fails, "put some Windex on it."

Letter Name
Α α alpha
Β β beta
Γ γ gamma
Δ δ delta
Ε ε epsilon
Ζ ζ zeta
Η η eta
Θ θ theta
Ι ι iota
Κ κ kappa
Λ λ lambda
Μ μ mu
Letter Name
Ν ν nu
Ξ ξ xi
Ο ο omicron
Π π pi
Ρ ρ rho
Σ σς sigma
Τ τ tau
Υ υ upsilon
Φ φ phi
Χ χ chi
Ψ ψ psi
Ω ω omega


Humphries, T., & MacDougall, F. (1999-2000). "Chaining" and other links: Making the connections between American Sign Language and English in two types of school settings. Visual Anthropology Review, 15(2), 84-94.

National Association of the Deaf, & Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2005). NAD-RID code of professional conduct. Retrieved from http://www.rid.org/UserFiles/File/NAD_RID_ ETHICS.pdf

Supalla, T. (1986). The classifier system in American Sign Language. In C.G. Craig (Ed.), Noun classes and categorization (181-215). Oregon: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Zwick, J. (Director). (2002). My Big Fat Greek Wedding [Motion picture]. USA: Gold Circle Films.

Career Highlights

  • The Miracle Worker -- Arlington High School
    "The Miracle Worker" is a three-act play by William Gibson that is based on Helen Keller's autobiography "The Story of My Life".
    I volunteered to team interpret this high school play for Deaf audience members.
  • Camp John Marc -- Meridian, TX
    Camp John Marc partners with community and health professionals and organizations to provide high quality camping experiences year round to campers who have a chronic illness or physical disability. The Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT) organization holds an annual conference at Camp John Marc each October. Families of people with deafblindness come from all parts of Texas. The Conference is held at Camp John Marc, a totally accessible environment located one hour west of Waco. Parents are offered lectures relating to best practices in the field of deafblindness. Presentations are made by both professionals and parents. While the parents are involved in training, their children are involved in a full camping experience. This includes such activities as ropes course, archery, fishing, hiking, arts and crafts, campfire, etc.
    For two years in a row I volunteered for the DBMAT weekend camp at Camp John Marc. I was a camp counselor and interpreter for the campers. I also interpreted on the climbing wall and zip line for the deaf-blind campers.
  • Church Under the Bridge -- Austin, TX
    Church Under the Bridge (CUB) takes place at 7th St and IH-35 on Sunday mornings. You will find live music, testimonies of changes lives, and a down-to-earth message for Austin's street population. Church Under the Bridge is a place where the Body of Christ in Austin can build relationships with those living on the streets. Volunteers at CUB tangibly demonstrate the love of God to others through a corporate worship time, the provision of hot meals, clothing, blankets and sleeping bags.
    I offered pro bono interpreting services for Church Under the Bridge for the entire year I lived in Austin. Church services generally lasted about three hours and I most of the time I was the only interpreter there. There were approximately 10 deaf people who regularly attended.
  • In the Blink of an Eye -- Texas Tech University
    Marcus Engel speaks from experience. After a drunk driver left him blind, Marcus overcame unimaginable obstacles to return to college and reclaim his life. His dramatic story inspires audiences to make intelligent choices, maximize their potential and achieve their dreams. A Program of Student Disability Services' Disability Awareness Week, October 16-22, 2009.
    I team interpreted on stage in the TTU auditorium for this event.
  • Carol of Lights -- Texas Tech University
    To celebrate the holiday season Texas Tech holds an annual event called the Carol of Lights. The event starts off with the Texas Tech University Combined Choirs performing selections of classic holiday songs at the Science Quadrangle. When the lighting ceremony commences, Students as well as those who came for the show stand in awe as over 25,000 red, white, and orange lights illuminate the 13 buildings surrounding memorial circle.
    I am one of the volunteer platform interpreters for this annual event and did voice-to-sign interpretation.
  • Guest Lecturer -- Baylor University
    A minor in American Sign Language/English interpreting was established in response to the current critical state-wide shortage of qualified interpreters. Our goal is to lay a foundation for students who may wish to pursue further education and enter the field of interpreting. I was a guest lecturer at Baylor University and gave presentations to two ASL classes and one interpreting class.
    I presented my research on country signs and gave an introduction to the field of interpreting as a means of recruiting interested students.
  • Deaf-Blind Young Adults in Action (DBYAA) -- Washington, D.C.
    The course will involve guided practice with mentors in actual advocacy arenas. After practicing the role of advocates, the young adults will engage with mentors individually and as a group to reflect upon their roles as change-agents. Effective communication strategies, both manual/oral and written, will be discussed. Participants' roles as self-advocates as well as advocates within their respective states and the nation will be explored.
    Summer of 2010 & 2011 -- I volunteered my interpreting services for this group and did tactile interpreting for the participants all week. We met with several congressmen and women and senators as well as the Department of Labor.
  • Guest Lecturer -- Texas Tech University
    The Introduction to Deaf Culture and Linguistics course satisfies the university requirement for a 3-hour multicultural course or its equivalent that focuses explicitly on the distinctive subcultures of the United States or on the culture of another society. I was a guest lecturer at Texas Tech University and gave presentations to Deaf Culture & Linguistics classes two semesters in a row.
    I lectured about the spectrum of communication modes, Deaf education law, and the Bilingual-Bicultural educational philosophy.
  • Deafblind & Diversity Lecture Series -- Texas Tech University, 2011
    Corrina Veesart is an undergraduate student, activist and leader who happens to be deafblind. In an effort to build awareness of student diversity, leadership and the importance of civic engagement, Corrina as young adult leader with disabilities, will be dialoguing with classes on campus and sharing her experiences in inclusive education both in K-12 and in higher education. Dr. Amy Parker is a coordinator of Deaf-Blind Young Adults in Action, a participatory action research study and national collaborative to build leadership skills in young adults with disabilities. Ms. Veesart and Dr. Parker offered a lecture entitled: "Building Leadership Skills: Engaging College Students with Disabilities" in the COE basement.
    I team coordinated interpreters and SSPs for our deafblind guest lecturer's visit. I also interpreted and provided SSP services myself for a majority of her stay, including an SSP training, meet-and-greet, three classroom lectures, a formal university-wide lecture, and a recorded video interview.
  • TSID Position Training for Secretaries, Local Chapter Representatives, & SIG Chairs, 2011
    Participants at this training will learn about their official duties in their newly elected positions of local chapter secretary, TSID secretary, and/or local chapter representative. We will teach application of these duties through exposure to TSID policies, forms, and templates. Chapter Representatives will learn to access and navigate TSID's online file-sharing structure, and all participants will engage in discussion about general organizational techniques. Participants will be encouraged to utilize these strategies and templates in accordance with their own local chapter policies and practices.
    I co-taught a position training with Erma Webb for the TSID Leadership Retreat.
  • Press Conference, Texas Tech Welcomes New Head Football Coach, Kliff Kingsbury
    Texas Tech graduate and former star quarterback Kliff Kingsbury was formally introduced Dec. 14 as the new head football coach in front of several hundred fans at United Spirit Arena. Members of the Texas Tech Board of Regents, Chancellor Kent Hance and Interim President Lawrence Schovanec also were on hand as Athletics Director Kirby Hocutt introduced the 15th head coach in Red Raider history.
    I interpreted for this press conference which was televised live on ESPN and other local news channels. 
  • Mayim Bialik lecture (a.k.a. "Amy Farrah Fowler")
    Beauty and Brains?! Mayim Bialik is best known to the public for her roles as Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory and Blossom Russo from the 90's sitcom Blossom. Come and laugh with Mayim Bialik, who is also a neurobiologist, as she shares her keen mind and wonderful sense of humor. In collaboration with the Honors College & University Student Housing, Student Union & Activities, and the Tech Activities Board.
    I stage interpreted with a team for Mayim Bialik's lecture.