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ASLIS - Project Partner

IRIS Project Coordinator, Kelly Decker, presents an introduction to the IRIS Project in American Sign Language (ASL).

IRIS Project

The Improving Rural Interpreter Skills (IRIS) Project is a $2.1M, five-year interpreter training grant. This grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration to the University of Northern Colorado's Department of American Sign Language & Interpreting Studies under the leadership of Dr. Leilani Johnson, Schawn Hardesty, and Kelly Decker. The funding will be used between October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2026. 

IRIS's Vision

The IRIS Project envisions increasing the quantity and quality of interpreters working and living in rural settings by cultivating educational opportunities and sustainable connections that support professional growth.

Shawn Vriezen shares the vision of the IRIS Project in ASL.

In order to realize its vision, the IRIS Project:

  • recognizes that rural interpreters experience professional isolation with limited educational opportunities,
  • upholds that the shared language of our space together is ASL,
  • creates the intentional space for rural interpreters to build an ethical support community,
  • implements communities of learning that have the shared experience of living and working in rural settings,
  • requires that diverse perspectives are intentionally sought to provide depth and balance to the learning experience and one's personal growth, and
  • believes dialogic engagement via peer interaction is centered on exploration and discovery as a pathway to learning.

IRIS's Geographical Reach

The IRIS Project is focused on improving the skills of 80 working interpreters and 20 mentor/facilitators in rural areas of the nation. 

Though the project will be national in scope, IRIS will focus its activities in three noncontiguous geographical areas:

  • the northeast (Maine, New Hampshire, & Vermont),

  • the southeast (Alabama, Louisiana, & Mississippi), and

  • the intermountain west (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Washington, & Wyoming).

Map showing the states where IRIS will focus their training

The WHY Behind IRIS

These geographical areas are specifically targeted as they have limited training opportunities for individuals wishing to work as interpreters in community settings with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and DeafBlind consumers. Individuals functioning as interpreters in these areas commonly lack the comprehensive knowledge and skill sets required to provide equal communication access. Generally overlooked by training entities and professional organizations, these interpreters are consequently unable to attain the necessary and appropriately sequenced training that recognizes existing competencies, accumulate academic credentials, or acquire professional certification to improve their services. 

The Goals of IRIS

The Improving Rural Interpreter Skills (IRIS) Project has three envisioned objectives for the 2021-2026 grant period. In the following video, Decker shares the three goals of IRIS in ASL.


Design or modify ~300 hours of interpreting knowledge and skills training for a 1-year hybrid delivery system followed by a 6-month induction/mentorship experience.

Impact 80 interpreters working in rural areas.


Design or modify ~120 hours of mentor/facilitator training for a 4-month hybrid delivery system.

Prepare 20 facilitators which represent a qualified and diverse pool of  ASL and interpreting mentors to support IRIS students and other interpreters within their respective spheres of influence. 


Explore, define, and pilot systems that move demonstrated competencies toward academic credit and/or interpreting certification.

Share findings/results with:

  • qualified working interpreters in rural areas
  • interested interpreter education programs across the nation

These interpreters and facilitators will be recruited using a snowball method of contact due to the complexity of finding and connecting with this particularly hard-to-serve population of learners and mentors who will be admitted and utilized in this professional development project. 

Projected Timeline for Grant (Subject to Change)

Years 1-2

February - May 2022

~120 hours of IRIS facilitator and mentor training delivered to potential instructional team members 

June 2022 - December 2023

Training delivered to selected IRIS: CORE Initiative participants (Cohort 1)

Years 2-3

June 2023 - December 2024

Training delivered to selected IRIS: CORE Initiative participants (Cohort 2)

Years 3-4

January - May 2024

~120 hours of facilitator and mentor training delivered to selected IRIS participants 

June 2024 - December 2025

Training delivered to selected IRIS: CORE Initiative participants (Cohort 3)

Year 5


The IRIS leadership team, facilitators, mentors, and IRIS: CORE Initiative participants attend a professional conference together, location and dates TBD.

Grant Recognition

The contents of this website were developed under a grant (H160D210006) from the Department of Education. HD160D210006 (University of Northern Colorado) IRIS Project - Improving Rural Interpreter Skills was one of several interpreter training projects to receive funding under Assistance Listing Number (ALN) 84.160D: 2021-2026. IRIS was awarded under Specialty Area 5, field initiated, in the topic area of improving rural interpreting skills.

The contents of the IRIS Project website does not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1221e-3 and 3474).

Logo for the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials

The National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM) website is a central portal for accessing archived and new rehabilitation training resources offering search capabilities, a quality rating system, as well as enhanced usability and accessibility.