American Sign Language and interpreting isn’t just Kim Hunt’s profession, it’s also her passion.
That passion also extends to making sure certain terms are written properly: “Deaf and Hard of Hearing are capitalized because it is part of their identity,” she said. “When it is used in the lower case, it implies a medical condition.”
“I was born into a Deaf home. My parents and several family members are Deaf, so American Sign Language (ASL) is my first language,” she said. “Knowing sign language didn’t automatically make me an interpreter, but it was the origin of what took me in that direction.”
Hunt brings her lifetime of personal experience — plus 39 years as a professional certified interpreter — to her new position as professor/coordinator of Tyler Junior College’s Sign Language Interpreting program.
Sign language interpreters provide vital communication between the Deaf and hearing worlds, assisting everywhere from classrooms to courtrooms and physician’s offices.
“Back in my day, Deaf people did not mainstream into the public schools, they went to the state school,” she said. “So, there wasn’t that immediate awareness of the Deaf community. People are much more aware today.”
That awareness is partly due to more prominent media coverage, with Deaf actor Troy Kotsur winning multiple awards — including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — for his role in the movie, ‘CODA,’ as well as his costar Marlee Matlin, a longtime well-known actress in the Deaf community, and Nyle DiMarco from “America’s Top Model,” who is Deaf, winning the mirror ball trophy on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Hunt hopes that increased awareness will bring more attention and resources to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.
“In the United States, there are 10 million Deaf or Hard of Hearing people. In Texas, there are 350,000. In East Texas, there are 90,000,” she said. “Across the entire state of Texas, there are 1,556 active certified interpreters to cover 350,000 Deaf or Hard of Hearing people.”
She continued, “That need just continues to grow, and there aren’t enough interpreters anywhere. Everyone is stretched thin.”
When there aren’t enough interpreters to go around, she said people must either reschedule important appointments or travel long distances to get what they need — or they go without services.
“We are in an interpreter crisis across the nation, the state and East Texas,” Hunt said, “and we have a program right here that can contribute to easing that crisis.”
About the program
TJC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in sign language interpreting, which includes extensive training in interpreting and translating in preparation to take the state board exam. Three certificates are also available for people in professions where learning ASL skills can be an asset in their careers such as healthcare, education and law enforcement.
In addition to the practical aspects of communicating through sign language, Hunt said students learn about Deaf history and culture as well as the interpreter’s professional code of conduct.
“There are certain behaviors that our students will know by heart before they graduate, including ethics, confidentiality and even their attire,” she said. “We dress in a certain way because it’s a visual language that requires focus. Black or solid colors are good because flashy jewelry and clothing with a lot of stripes or patterns are distracting.”
Hunt also hopes to get the students more involved in the East Texas Deaf community.
“As a department, our goal is to produce students who are trained and ready to go into their career,” she said. “We’re planning to partner with several entities that allow students to do some job-shadowing and have mentors to help them get ready and see what we actually do in the field. Those are things they can’t get in the classroom setting.”
There are also plans for some fun projects outside the classroom.
“We will do a zoo day where the students will go around and interpret the placards at the animal exhibits,” she said. “There are also certain nights each month at various restaurants in Tyler, Lindale and Longview that offer Deaf nights. So, the students can go and practice in a low-stakes environment. Deaf people want to help the students learn, and it helps the students get out of their comfort zone.”
Hunt is also proud of her highly qualified team of educators.
“With all of our experience, our department is very strong,” she said. “Among the four professors including myself, two of whom are Deaf, we have over 140 years of experience and 19 degrees or certifications between us. That expertise plus a student’s willingness to learn will help to create a new generation of much-needed interpreters. We all share the same goal, which is communication access for all.”
For more information, go to TJC.edu/SignLanguage.