Scroll back to the top

Facilitating Access for Students with Disabilities

Whitney Gissell

Whitney Douglass '09 is the Director of Business Services at Crabtree Interpreting. We interviewed Ms. Douglass about her role as a sign language interpreter, how she became interested in the field, and strategies to become better advocates. This year marks 30 years since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

What is your inspiration for facilitating access for students with disabilities?

My inspiration started with a blessing. When I was growing up, I really had a heart for people with disabilities. In high school, I worked at a recreation center  for people with disabilities in Austin. I noticed a lot of the people who were non-verbal used sign language to communicate. This sparked my interest in sign language. I took sign language as a foreign language at James Burley High School in Austin, Texas. I never realized there were career opportunities in the field. When I attended Texas A&M University my freshman year, my chemist partner was deaf. His interpreter was in all of our classes. I began learning about the career from her, and she became my mentor. She introduced me to American Sign Language and that interpreters work in a myriad of places. My dream job was to work in a hospital as an interpreter. After graduating from Texas A&M, I was hired at MD Anderson as an interpreter. From there, I wanted to make more of an impact and switched to the business side of the industry where I can have an impact on a broader scale.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in facilitating access for students with disabilities?

A common misconception is that there is only one sign language in the world. In truth, there are probably hundreds of types. So sometimes we have a patient in the hospital or people in the court system that are deaf, but they don't use American Sign Language. They use whatever sign language is established in their homes. That is something we always have to be cognizant of happening. This has also been the case at Texas A&M, where there were students from other countries that don’t use American Sign Language. This is one thing that a lot of people are surprised to know about our industry. It is difficult to find a hearing interpreter that could interpret into Japanese Sign Language or into LSM, which is Mexican Sign Language. We have certified deaf interpreters, who are deaf people that are very well-versed in English and very well-versed in American Sign Language, to the point that they are able to interpret the language into gestural communication. We use these interpreters to work with us and deaf people that come to us from other countries. This is very important to our industry.

What suggestions do you have to help other people become better advocates?

We are living in a world that is hyper-focused on social justice. We have deaf and hard of hearing people with disabilities that are marginalized in many of the same ways that other people are. My recommendation would be to look at the ADA (American Disabilities Act). What does it say? If you are an employer, what are your requirements under the law? What are the best practices in meeting those requirements? We all know that places need to have a wheelchair ramp, but there are nuances within there to protect people with disabilities of all kinds. When you find yourself in a position of power or privilege, use that to understand what your responsibilities are for others.

What do you recommend to celebrate the ADA 30th anniversary?

In the past, we have supported specific causes with the ADA. We have made information publicly available and easy to understand for a lay person. We all agree we need diversity. Let’s figure out what benefits and privileges can be realized by including someone with disabilities. They have world experiences that are different than many of us. Deaf culture is very rich and beautiful. What do they have to offer that no one else in the world can offer? Find what is unique to them, and make sure we celebrate and include that in all of our efforts and goals.

Tell us about your company and the population you serve?

I am with Crabtree Interpreting, and Crabtree has been around since 2012. We focus primarily on educational interpreting, including K-12 and post-secondary education. We serve a little in community interpreting, but see our home in education. We have nine full-time interpreters, and worked with approximately three hundred contractors last year in Texas. Our reach is far, and we are looking forward to growth. We are online at crabtreeinterpreting.com, and we love serving people.

What do you like to do when you're not working?

Everything is a little different. Right in the height of the pandemic, I had my first baby. I have a wonderful, cute little five-month-old at home. Outside of work, I am raising him. I enjoy serving the community in volunteer roles. I am the president of our state interpreter organization, Texas Society of Interpreters for the Deaf. I am also active on the national level with the Registry of the Interpreters of the Deaf, Inc.
###

Media contact:
Crystal S. Carter
Communications Specialist
c.carter@tamu.edu