Paula Willig

September 2013

IRID's Longest Standing Member

For this month’s interpreter focus we interviewed IRID’s longest standing member, Paula Willig. She has been an IRID member continuously since 1974! Paula shares her perspective on our field, how it has changed over the last 40 years, and finally her “legacy” as she considers the R word – retirement.

Paula is currently the director of the Interpreter Preparation Program at John A. Logan College in Carterville, IL. She’s taught at the college since 1994. Her journey started in the 70’s at Concordia University, where she planned to major in French. She took all the sign classes they offered. In the 70’s community involvement was all the rage. Concordia, being a Lutheran University, had a connection with Ephphatha Lutheran Church for the Deaf, which still has Sunday services on the south side of Chicago Each Sunday there were services and a social time afterward, and it was there she immersed herself in the Deaf Culture and ASL.

On campus at Concordia she met a Deaf man who became her friend and first “client”. She interpreted for him until the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 took effect and a professional interpreter could be hired. “He taught me by example” says Paula. Something that she fears may be going away. “With professionalization of the field of interpreting,” says Paula, “We lost our community component which is vital.” Later, an interpreter, Rosemarie Lucafo, was hired and served as an interpreting model for Paula. Sometimes it really is the love and understanding of that one Deaf person early on that tips the scales, and the next thing you know….

While attending Concordia, Paula was completing practicum hours in a classroom for the deaf. She met Celia Warshawski, the first Deaf person to ever teach a self-contained classroom for the deaf in the state of Illinois. Paula did all of her fieldwork and practicum in her classroom, and it was Celia who encouraged her to take the RID test. “’Just take the test’ she would say to me often” says Paula. And, at $40 a pop, who could blame her? Celia Warshawski was a board member of RID at the time. Paula took the test the first time and did not pass. She took it again and got a partial. Third time’s a charm: she passed and got her CSC in 1980.

After working in the field she attended Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) and earned a graduate degree in Teaching Interpreting. Paula is concerned about what she is seeing more and more of in recent years. “Downstate we are hemorrhaging interpreters to other states”. She sees students from her 2-year interpreting program graduating and moving to Kentucky and Missouri to work. “Testing and licensure is not as expensive there” says Paula. Most interpreters have an awareness of the state of affairs for educational interpreters. There simply are not enough of them, and they get riffed (a public school term for firing everyone at the end of the school year with full intention of re hiring them the following year). This uncertainty means they move a lot. This leads to burnout and extra stress. The EIPA qualified interpreters are also prohibited from practicing with Deaf adults until they can earn a yellow license, which is not easy if you are signing ABCs and 123s all day long. Paula took the bull by the horns and addressed this situation. She created a 100% online two-year Educational Interpreting-Professional Associate of Applied Science and certificate specifically geared to those recent grads who need help passing the EIPA. “The test is expensive” says Paula. “most can not afford to fail”. Her online Educational Interpreter program “picks up where the IPP leaves off” says Paula. She has been searching for a four year university to host the program so that Illinois interpreters can have a public university option. “Interpreters want bachelor’s degrees. It is a requirement for NIC certification that interpreters have a bachelor’s degree” she says. There is no public four-year university option.

So, Illinois Interpreters: what does this mean for us? It means we have some conversations ahead. Let’s talk about this at our GMGs! Become active in your local GMG and share your thoughts! For more information on Paula’s Educational Interpreting two-year program, visit