Federal Funding Targets Critical Need in Disability Education

Grants from the U.S. Department of Education will help train dozens of University of Arizona students for high-demand jobs working with students with hearing and visual impairments.
Nov. 7, 2019
Cindy Volk
Cindy Volk
Sunggye Hong
Sunggye Hong

Nearly $2.5 million in federal funding will help train University of Arizona students to serve young people with visual and hearing impairments.

Two grants from the U.S. Department of Education will help address a critical shortage in educational interpreters, rehabilitation counselors and teachers of students with visual impairments.

Cindy Volk, associate professor of practice in the College of Education's Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies, is project director for a $1.25 million renewal grant to train interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing K-12 students. The funding will provide tuition and stipend money for UArizona undergraduate students who agree to work as educational interpreters in the U.S. public school system.

Volk says the critical need for interpreters throughout the United States helped the department attract funding that often goes to graduate-level programs.

“We’re the only bachelor’s degree program in the state of Arizona that prepares interpreters,” Volk said. “There just aren’t that many programs around.”

The department has trained about 300 educational interpreters over the last two decades. The grant will fund 60 more students over the next five years. The program includes an intensive practicum in which students spend up to two years observing and interpreting in public school classrooms.

“Our students pretty much have their pick of jobs throughout the United States,” Volk said. “Schools are always looking for interpreters.”

Supporting Students With Visual Impairments

Sunggye Hong, Michael Hartley and Christina Schoch, faculty members in the Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies, were awarded a $1.25 million grant that will benefit K-12 students with visual impairments.

The funding will help 24 UArizona students become teachers of students with visual impairments and 12 become rehabilitation counselors, who help with the transition from high school to the workforce.

“The biggest challenge that we face is the low employment rate of people with visual impairments after they graduate high school,” Hong said. “If we can create a program where we have teachers of students with visual impairments and rehabilitation counselors work together to develop effective post-graduation transition programs, we think students will have a much better chance of being employed after high school.”

UArizona has the only program in the state that trains teachers of students with visual impairments and rehabilitation counselors. Hong says there are more than 5,000 vacancies for such teacher positions throughout the U.S.