North Texas Daily

ASL should be universally taught

ASL should be universally taught

ASL should be universally taught
July 26
15:00 2020

When I was an incoming freshman, I was told by a family member not to choose American Sign Language for my degree’s language requirement. Their reasoning was that it would not be useful to me. I was not studying to be an interpreter, so why take two years of ASL classes? What could I possibly gain from sign language?  

This sentiment is not uncommon amid America’s educational and societal culture. Following recent suggestions to replace cursive with ASL in schools, debates have broken out about how beneficial sign language will be to hearing students. Critics comment on how difficult it would be to add another language to young learners’ course load. Others snarkily ask if a person can sign a check or document with sign language.  

It does not take much to effectively refute these criticisms.

Infants can be taught sign language fairly easily. If a tiny human can learn to sign while in the middle of learning everything about everything, it is hard to believe that older students will struggle. Also, who said a child had to wait until elementary school to begin learning ASL?

To address the second critique, it is time to accept that checks are an outdated form of currency. If you find yourself on their side, really consider what you are arguing against- the ability to use a piece of paper as currency or culture change that intimidates you? Learning sign language instead of cursive does not magically prevent you from writing or being able to provide an adequate signature. However, living in a country that largely does not know sign language hinders the daily activities of those who rely on it.   

ASL is actually the most sensible choice as a language and should be a requirement in every school. Instead of a foreign language credit offered in high school at the earliest, ASL should be a part of our core curriculum from a young age. The reasoning is easy: to allow those that rely on sign language to achieve an equal societal standing. 

Even outside school systems, sign language’s central standing in our general culture is long overdue.  

Instead of arguing over what ASL can do for our country (the answer is “a lot”), we need to focus on why it has not already been taught regularly nationwide. The answer may not be surprising: a history of decisions made by able-bodied and hearing people that failed to consider what was best for those who relied on ASL.

Until the 20th century, the education of hearing-impaired students focused on oralism, a now-defunct practice that focused on making communication with people with hearing-loss as least burdensome on able-bodied people as possible. This method utilized lip reading and speech and marked students as failures if they could not pick up oral language. ASL was forbidden in classrooms using oralism, despite being preferred by students.  

ASL was not recognized by linguists as a legitimate form of communication until the 1960s, despite being used for almost 150 years prior. Other forms of sign language deviating from ASL were used in America by the Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains since at least 1541. 

This history of ASL reflects our current treatment of the language — with the sidelining of disabled needs.  

In regards to sign language, the common thought processes of able-bodied individuals place our privilege before the needs of differently-abled persons. When we minimize the importance of ASL, we ignore the monumental benefit of making the world more accessible to people with hearing-loss and non-verbal individuals. 

A population’s universal knowledge of sign language does not just allow for simple communication between two people — it also opens up vast possibilities to the hearing impaired that able-bodied and hearing people take for granted. This includes educational and employment opportunities, the enjoyment of public events and overall elevated quality of life. 

The questions we ask revolving ASL should not be what it can do for us as individuals, but what it can do for the greater society.

Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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