American Sign Language impacting nation, students

Throughout our lives, most of us can remember a moment where we came in contact with a member of the deaf society.

Were you able to communicate with them? Did you expect them to read your lips? Or did you have to search for a piece of paper and a pen and try to quickly scribble down your thoughts back and forth?

There is a better way to do this-with such a high number of deaf people living in America, it becomes the hearing society’s responsibility to learn the deaf language: American Sign Language (ASL).

Deaf people cannot learn to hear, but hearing people can learn how to communicate with the deaf. Society has come to understand that the deaf deserve the same rights as the hearing, yet deaf people in America are still excluded from mainstream society because of the serious lack of communication.

There is not an official statistic on how many deaf people live in this country; the U.S. Census Bureau stopped including deaf demographics in 1930.

Individual surveys are rarely conducted, and they are not done on a large enough scale to be entirely accurate.

However, the National Center for Health Statistics reported in 1991 that there were as many as “4.81 million deaf and hard of hearing people in America,” and that it varies depending on what is counted as deaf versus hard of hearing.

The most obvious way to include this large part of society is to learn their language. Through Deaf Eyes, a documentary about the history of deaf culture broadcast on PBS, states that, “American Sign Language (ASL) is the visual/gesture language that is the primary means of communication of deaf people in America and parts of Canada.”

Although a fairly new language, ASL is rapidly gaining recognition-many colleges and universities, including Sam Houston, now accept ASL as foreign language credit.

The problem, however, is that ASL classes are not offered on campus at Sam Houston.

Linda Wetzel, a SHSU senior, knew that she wanted to take ASL for her foreign language: “I just had to find a place that offered it; I was disappointed when that wasn’t here at Sam.”

Wetzel, like many others, is forced to drive down to Montgomery Community College twice a week for ASL class.

Several of the other students enrolled in the ASL classes at Montgomery Community College also drive over 40 miles from various places to attend these classes. Foreign Language credit is merely one of the numerous reasons that ASL should be essential to hearing people.

Kathryn Pearl, a freshman at SHSU, said she “was taught basic sign language when [she] was really young, and [she’s] always loved being able to talk to a part of society that feels overlooked.”

Now she has the opportunity to fluently learn ASL, she will be able to fully communicate with the deaf society and her knowledge of this modern language that is actually used in our own country will prove useful after she graduates and becomes an elementary education teacher.

Schools aren’t the only places that ASL comes in handy: Robert Blair, a deaf ASL professor in the North Harris Montgomery Community College District, states “The majority of Deaf people, including me, work in a hearing work place. We are left out at most times. Now with more hearing people learning and knowing ASL, we have better access everywhere.”

Deafness is not a hereditary gene, and the hearing society needs to be more aware of the possibility of deaf children being born into their own family.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, “Nine out of every 10 children who are born deaf are born to parents who can hear.” Blair’s experience in the school systems have shown him that “Most hearing parents don’t learn ASL-they say they are too busy with their jobs, family matters, etc. It is sad how many Deaf children are not able to communicate with their hearing parents. They barely know each other.”

The necessity of ASL is rapidly being understood throughout the country, and more and more universities are choosing to add Sign Language to their curriculum.

ASL is now currently offered at five of the North Harris Community College District campuses, The University of Houston, Rice University, University of Texas, as well as many others, but both Texas A&M and Sam Houston State University still only accept transfer courses.

If Bearkats voice their desire to have ASL offered on our own campus, changes can be made.

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