Sarah Varnadoe, staff writer 

I’ve taken American Sign Language, or ASL, classes for four years. When I was deciding where to go to college at about this time last year, ASL was a factor I took into consideration. I was thinking of completing a double major between English and ASL, or at least minoring in ASL. The four years of classes really showed me how important it is for more hearing people to learn ASL and of the large need for interpreters. Unfortunately, Berry only offers Spanish, French and German. I almost didn’t come to Berry because of this, and it is my opinion that this should be changed. 

I want to make something clear: this is not a Berry-specific problem. ASL is not widely taught at multiple school levels across the country. Currently, America has 26,727 high schools. Out of these, only roughly 1,000 offer ASL. This is only about 4%. Sadly, this is better than colleges. Out of about 6,000 colleges, only an estimated 204 offer this language—a meager 3%. 

Still, it’s hard to blame the school systems for not including the language in their curriculum when the whole of America fails to legally recognize ASL. Only 45 states consider ASL a world language. In other words, five states do not recognize it. I believe that this lack of recognition is at least partly due to deafness being an invisible disability. This essentially means that you cannot see that someone is deaf the same way that you can see, for instance, that they are in a wheelchair. This lack of visibility makes it all too easy to ignore or forget about it. 

The vast majority do not know a lot of important facts about deaf people and ASL either. Knowing this information helps highlight the importance of having ASL in the school system. For example, it is not very well-known that ASL is the third most used language in the United States, only behind English and Spanish. Additionally, more than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. This means that some parents do not know how to communicate with their child because they were never educated on the deaf community and their community’s language. 

This widespread lack of knowledge about deafness and ASL has some major effects on the deaf community. The lessened understanding can quickly leave deaf communities feeling estranged. Activities that hearing people take for granted or are able to easily do in day-to-day life are made difficult for deaf people. This is the case for one deaf man, Ibby Piracha. He bought coffee at his local Starbucks two or three times a week. None of the employees knew sign, so he was forced to place his order by typing it into his phone and showing the barista. One employee did what we should all try to do and started to learn ASL to communicate better with him. Piracha was quoted saying that, before the barista, he had never before had a service employee use sign to communicate with him. 

Very few hearing people knowing ASL also endangers deaf individuals in emergency situations. For example, interactions with the police can be devastating if the officer mistakes a deaf individual signing as danger. Robert Kim pulled over to fix a flat tire before slipping into a diabetic episode. Officers came and Kim tried to make them aware he was deaf. When the officers gave him verbal commands and he didn’t respond, they beat and tasered him out of fear, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

His resulting conditions were life-threatening. Another sad experience was that of John Meister. He was carrying his belongings from his friend’s home when officers thought he was a burglar and began to interact with him. When he signed to the officers, they misinterpreted it as aggression. He was beaten, tasered and choked to the point of unconsciousness, according to the ACLU. This all happened because the officers were never educated about ASL and the deaf community. 

It is important for Berry students to help solve this issue. The most immediate way we can fix this problem is to get ASL classes at Berry. A student must start an interest group as the first step in doing this. If an interest group is already started by the time you decide to get involved, join it. It then has to go through a long series of approvals. For instance, the language department, Evans school, Academic Council, provost and president all must approve it. While it is going through these approvals, be vocal about wanting the classes and advocate for them. Post on social media to get more students involved and write to the different people that have to approve it so they can see how much we want the classes. 

Deaf people want hearing people to be more involved with them. Piracha said of his experience with the barista, “I was glad to hear someone supporting the deaf community. Sometimes we feel kind of pushed away, and I wish hearing people were a little more assertive to learn more about us and our community.” Having ASL in schools, including Berry, is the first step in 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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