The Importance of American Sign Language

The Importance of American Sign Language

Jalen Flaherty, Staff Writer

Have we ever really thought about the importance of ASL (American Sign Language) in our community? Personally, I know I’m guilty of not really thinking about it, having grown up with no deaf family members or friends. But I think it should raise some concern and some questions. Throughout high schools in America, the two main languages taught are French and Spanish which most people would probably know the basics of. Things like hello, goodbye, how to ask for help and much more. But what about any basic knowledge of ASL?

According to the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), in the US today, about 2 to 3 children out of every 1000 are extremely hard of hearing or deaf. Also, 15% (37.5 million) of American adults who are deaf use a method of communication similar to ASL. So there is no question that this expressive language is used often. Since 1970, ASL has been the 4th most used language in America, yet barely any high schools offer the class as a foreign language credit to help meet the requirements of graduation. In America only about 17% of high schools allow students to take a ASL class that would help meet these requirements.

Other than just the advantage of knowing another popularly used language, ASL also enriches and enhances the brain’s cognitive process and improves memory for abstract shapes. Also, ASL isn’t just for the deaf population, knowing basic sign language can be useful communication for firefighters, police officers, and even scuba divers!

When asking Weedsport’s foreign language teacher, Mrs. Matson, about her opinions on ASL being taught in high schools she said, “Absolutely! Knowing several different languages is the door to common understanding of cultures.” And even more students agree that. Even as an elective, sign language would be a class Weedsport students would partake in. For example several Weedsport 7th graders such as Maddie Christopher, Isabella Petrus, and Matthew Picciano all expressed their interest in the subject all saying, “It would be so cool to learn” and when asked if they would take it as even an elective in future years the amount of yes’s outweighed the no’s.

Currently in Weedsport High School there are no deaf students, and actually in most traditional high schools, not many parents of deaf children opt to put their child in a public school setting. This is because most parents are scared that their child would fall behind academically because of the lack of understanding the deaf population in most schools. Most high schools don’t even have staff that know how to sign. And why not? Not a high enough budget? Maybe schools don’t think it would draw enough attention to the students and that there would not be enough students partaking in the class? These are all questions that should be raised in the community. And maybe, with enough awareness, the possibility of ASL classes being introduced in public high schools could be more than just a dream.