Professor, Cooperative Faculty of Education
Project Leader, Grant Programs by the Nippon Foundation
Since AY2017, Gunma University has engaged in “Development of Academic Sign-Language Interpreters” (since AY2019, “Professional Development for Academic Sign-Language Interpreters” jointly with Gunma Prefecture through the Nippon Foundation Project, as a contribution in its role as an academic institution to the Sign Language Ordinance established by Gunma Prefecture. The project has two objectives. The first is the development of university students. That is, to send them into society as professional supporters with advanced sign language skills by graduation, through learning basic JSL in their first year and completing the sign language interpreter development curriculum by their third year, as well as mastering in their fourth year the communication skills, such as sign language, needed for teachers at special needs education schools, including support techniques for deaf students with multiple disabilities. The second objective is the training of sign language interpreters in the prefecture on “academic sign-language interpretation” needed for classes at higher education institutions, conference presentations, etc.
In March 2015, Gunma Prefecture became the third prefecture in Japan to establish an ordinance on sign language; in December of the same year, Maebashi City did likewise, becoming the first prefecture in Japan having such ordinances in both the prefecture and the city. Further, as of April 2021, similar ordinances have been established in 16 municipalities, making Gunma a leader in sign language ordinances throughout Japan. The prefectural ordinance regulates the arrangement of a sign language environment from early childhood on at schools serving deaf and hard-of-hearing children, while some municipal ordinances also specify sign language support in schools. As a “sign language leader” among prefectures, Gunma has promoted this project, which integrates administration and academia, in order to make professional supporters skilled in sign language interpretation widely available through the prefecture and to promote the “Gunma model” throughout Japan.
The project concluded its fourth year at the end of AY2020, sending its first graduates into society (34 students completing the sign language interpreter development curriculum, 1 Gunma Prefecture certified sign language interpreter, 6 students completing the deaf-blind interpretation and caregiver development curriculum). In addition, the coronavirus pandemic during AY2020 led all classes to be optimized online, creating a learning environment for sign language, etc., without a face-to-face classroom.
Currently, we face a multitude of issues including the nationwide shortage of sign language interpreters, the switch to public infrastructure of the telephone relay service, and the insufficient response to the sign language interpretation needs of deaf/HoH students in higher education institutions. If we do not consider seriously “the development of sign language interpreters for young people,” we will find that the social participation of the deaf/HoH as advanced professionals will be significantly hampered. To this end, we believe that it is necessary to establish systems for the development of sign language interpreters at higher education institutions and to organize environments nationwide to make such education available.
Thus, from AY2021 on, in order to develop our first four years even further, we have embarked on the Nippon Foundation-aided project, “Establishment of a Remote Sign Language Education System Intended to Develop Supporters for the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing.” The final objective of this project is to create a conjunction of sign language education and research bases and to establish a remote-based sign language education system, in order to resolve such problems as lack of advanced sign language interpreters and the sign language skills of professionals working with the deaf/HoH. With the motto of “the power of sign language, coming from Gunma,” we hope to see our existing projects blossom as we contribute to the nationwide development of sign language interpreters and the improvement of the quality of development programs for professional supporters involved with sign language.
We appreciate your guidance and support throughout this endeavor.