501der Women 2022: Conway native joins a national effort to provide equal access to American Sign Language services in nation’s schools

By Colleen Holt

Allyson Caruthers was named as a member of the interim board of directors for the National Association of Interpreters in Education (NAIE), a group founded in 2016 to “empower educational interpreters to promote best practices and to enhance the education of deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind students.” As part of the interim board, Allyson is helping with NAIE’s restructuring and developing a strategic plan for the next two to four years.

A member of the interim board of directors for the National Association of Interpreters in Education (NAIE), Allyson Caruthers displays the sign for “interpreter.”

The first contact Allyson had with NAIE was through her volunteer work with the Arkansas Registry for Interpreters of the Deaf and some of their continuing education opportunities. “I took a couple of classes online pre-COVID-19 and heard about NAIE. I was thinking about joining, and then NAIE had a free membership opportunity during the pandemic. I joined in May 2020 and attended their member-only webinars that summer.”

While learning more about NAIE, Allyson noticed their state ambassador program – and that there wasn’t an ambassador from Arkansas. “I applied to be the state ambassador, was interviewed, and came on board in September 2020,” she said. The roles of a state ambassador are to recruit members in your state, talk with leaders in your state’s Department of Education to inform them of the standards for educational interpreters, and show that there is a need for American Sign Language interpreters in education.

Soon after being named Arkansas’ State Ambassador, Allyson assisted the organization’s vice president with the design and setup of the State Ambassador Google site for storing documents and other information for use by the ambassadors. She said the board saw how much work she had put in and the passion she had for the state ambassador program and, in response, asked her to be on the interim board in June 2021.

“The interim board was initially a six-month agreement, but that turned into another six months because we’ve done more than we originally planned. We’ve gone into more detail on a few projects,” she said. In addition to the board duties, she continues with her state ambassador duties. A couple of things she has started doing for Arkansas NAIE members is sending a monthly newsletter and conducting virtual “meet and greets” a couple of times each year.

“I have also been working with the Interpreter Education Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to get their seniors and juniors involved in NAIE,” she said. “UA Little Rock is where I graduated from, and the Interpreter Ed Program is one of very few accredited schools in the nation that has an emphasis on educational interpreting. You can get a minor in educational interpreting.”

Allyson is a full-time educational interpreter in Central Arkansas and has worked in the public school system since 2016. She earned an Associate of Science in American Sign Language Studies in 2014 and a Bachelor of Arts in Interpretation: American Sign Language/English with a minor in educational interpreting in 2016, both from UA Little Rock.

Allyson is continuing with other volunteer work in the world of interpreting, especially with the Arkansas Registry for Interpreters of the Deaf, a group established in 1981 to provide information about the world of interpreting. “I became a student member in 2015 and got my feet wet by being support staff at the biennial conference. In fall 2016, I became chair of the technology committee.”

Not only are NAIE and ARID a large part of Allyson’s work community, she has also found lifelong friends in the Deaf and Deaf-Blind community. Her contributions in this community include being on the Deaf-Blind Camp planning committee and taking freelance jobs to make sure everyone has equal access to interpreting services. She has even been known to deliver groceries to her Deaf and hard-of-hearing friends as needed.

The latest volunteer job Allyson has taken on is as an interpreter/coach for Team Arkansas at the USA Games for Special Olympics next month in Orlando, Florida. She has worked with Special Olympics Arkansas since the summer of 2016 as part of her UA Little Rock degree internship.

“I have fallen in love with SOAR. I feel I’ve helped bring awareness to others in the organization that it is important to have an interpreter for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes and coaches for equal access,” she said. “That, in turn, has opened an opportunity for me to work with them in many ways. This year, I’m fortunate enough to be a part of Team Arkansas.”