American Sign Language, abbreviated as ASL, is one of the most commonly used languages in the United States and the fourth most studied second language at American universities. However, it is not offered as a language class in most public high schools.
ASL should be offered in high schools to teach students to empathize with people who are deaf or hard of hearing and to better support students who are deaf.
Some may not consider sign language a real language and denote them to just gestures. However, for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, ASL is a primary language and English is a second language.
Students who are deaf or hard of hearing deal with a language barrier in classrooms, causing them to fall behind in learning and alienating them from the rest of the class.
These barriers also go beyond the classroom as 70% of deaf people are unemployed and have difficulty finding work. Co-workers expect them to process knowledge as quickly as a hearing person, and they are often seen as incapable in the workplace when they fail to meet those expectations.
Having an ASL class in high school allows for greater understanding between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear. It fosters a society where people who are deaf or hard of hearing can thrive and be supported, not just fit in.
A common argument against teaching ASL in schools is that it is not worth the effort, especially since people who are deaf can often lip read.
However, this neglects the fact that reading lips is not a simple task and students can only efficiently learn from this method if it’s a subject they are already familiar with.
Janice Myck-Wayne, a professor of special education, said ASL has its own grammatical structures and vocabulary and is a useful language to include all members of the community and society.
One of the benefits of having ASL offered in high schools is that it can introduce a career path to students. Interpreters are in high demand in certain places, such as hospitals, courts, governmental agencies, community activities and state legislatures. Taking ASL classes in high school can instill students with a passion for sign language, which can lead them to pursue a career involving sign language further down the road.
“It’s a great option to offer in high school because we learn languages better when we’re younger anyway,” Myck-Wayne said. “That you would be able to decide whether you decide whether that’s something you want to do.”
ASL is not only a practically useful language, but can also remove stigmas surrounding the deaf and hard of hearing community. ASL courses are necessary for people to better understand the struggles of the Deaf community.
Myck-Wayne said that just like any other foreign language class, students would be able to learn about Deaf culture and its history, which is a necessary step that will develop an understanding and acceptance of the language.
Opponents have argued that there are clubs available on campuses for students to learn about these things. However, this argument fails to acknowledge there are so many nuances in the culture and language that cannot be conveyed as effectively in a student-run club. Just as a French club is not a substitute for taking French courses, ASL clubs cannot be taken as a replacement for classes.
Schools need to consider making ASL classes available to students in high schools, but this may come with challenges. Finding a full-time teacher who is qualified to teach the language is another difficult task for schools. There are not many teachers who are proficient in ASL, and even ASL interpreters might not qualify because they lack necessary teaching skills.
Despite those setbacks, the benefits of learning ASL are numerous and should be taught in schools to break down ableist norms.
If students are interested in ASL being taught as a foreign language, they should contact their schools to request it as a class.
The lack of ASL classes in public high schools renders people who are deaf or hard of hearing invisible. Schools must include ASL classes in their curriculum to give these students the space and the tools to advocate for themselves and their communities.