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Measure to establish American Sign Language as an official language in Hawaiʻi advances

Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/USAF

A bill to recognize American Sign Language as an official language in Hawaiʻi is moving through the state Legislature.

House Bill 834 crossed into the Senate earlier this month, and passed through that chamber’s Health and Human Services committee on Monday.

The committee also recommended passing a resolution to create an ASL interpreter workforce working group, whose goal would be to increase the number of interpreters in the state.

Jackie Emmart is a Kāneʻohe-based ASL interpreter, who during testimony said at least four interpreters have left the state in the last year.

"Thus, the attrition of our workforce is imminent," Emmart said.

Further, she stated that "interpreters are not a one size fits all."

"This is true across our profession, we vary and our years of experience are topics of competence or linguistic fluency use in our abilities," she said. "Just because an interpreting request is made for an for a time when an interpreter is available, does not mean that that an interpreter will be able to accept the request or the request would be filled."

Emmart explained to lawmakers that it's seen as a "disservice to the Deaf, Deaf Blind and non-deaf individuals" for an interpreter they were assigned to facilitate communication outside their scope of practice.

The committee also heard House Bill 218, which would require pharmacies to provide accessible prescription drug information to those who have difficulty seeing or reading prescription labels.

The Board of Pharmacy said it is "concerned about the associated costs of pharmacies to obtain technology and implement procedures" in this bill, and noted that pharmacists already offer patient counseling per another law, in written testimony.

In written testimony, Donald Sakamoto, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaiʻi, said the measure would "definitely help me and other people statewide" to identify prescriptions and instructions.

"Today we have the 21st century Technology with solutions to provide prescription drug container label information, directions, as well as instructions in alternate accessible formats, and not just small print," Sakamoto wrote.

"For example, one type of device that is readily available is at CVS Longs called Spoken Rx that uses a smart tagged prescription label that works with their app to read your prescription information when you would hold your smart phone over the medication bottle. By the use of this alternate formats, it definitely would enhance accessibility of prescription drug container labels for everyone, furthering our prescription drugs independently instead of relying on others with sight for assistance."

Sabrina Bodon is Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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