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New law raises sign language’s status

MU and other public education institutions in Missouri will recognize it as a foreign language.
Tuesday, August 2, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:52 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

When Stephanie Logan received a call from a spokeswoman for Gov. Matt Blunt recently, she thought it was another practical joke. The previous day, her office had received a call from “John, from Blunt’s office.”

That call didn’t surprise Logan; she previously served on the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a group often in contact with state government, before becoming MU’s only American Sign Language instructor. But her co-worker, interpreting for Logan, noticed “John” sounded a lot like Logan’s husband, a man fond of practical jokes.

So Logan was skeptical of the new call — until the caller invited her to the signing of House Bill 530, a bill classifying American Sign Language as a foreign language in Missouri public education institutions.

The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, will make Missouri the 41st state to recognize ASL as a foreign language. Students will be allowed to take ASL courses to fulfill foreign language requirements in any state public education institution that offers them.

And Logan, a doctoral student in MU’s department of educational, school and counseling psychology, is in charge of expanding MU’s ASL course into three new courses. The university will offer two levels of ASL courses, taught by Logan, in the fall and an additional third level in 2006, Logan said.

The law’s goal was to help fill the need for ASL-certified instructors in Missouri schools and help deaf Missourians obtain degrees from programs where foreign language requirements would have previously hindered them, said Rep. Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, who co-sponsored the bill in the Missouri House with Rep. Danielle Moore, R-Fulton.

“We just want deaf Missourians to have the same opportunities for four-year education as other Missourians,” Page said.

Missouri’s acceptance of ASL as a foreign language is the latest in a movement to recognize ASL as a foreign language in all public education institutions, said Bill Newell, professor of ASL at Valdosta State University and member of the National Association of the Deaf. The movement has existed since 1965, although the last 10 to 15 years has seen most of the formal activity to recognize ASL as a language, Newell said.

The spread of ASL’s recognition as a foreign language started after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, said Sherman Wilcox, associate professor of linguistics at the University of New Mexico. The act requires employers to supply deaf employees with interpreters in certain situations.

The act increased the visibility of ASL and led many colleges to offer ASL courses to fill the need for interpreters, Wilcox said. As more students took these courses, they began requesting that universities allow ASL classes to count for foreign language credit hours.

“Every year, there are a handful of universities that I know about that are debating this and moving on this,” Wilcox said.

On his Web site, Wilcox maintains a growing list of universities (so far, 145) that accept ASL courses for foreign language credit.

“It’s a nationwide movement that has a good head of steam and I don’t see it slowing down,” he said. “If anything, it’s going to continue to grow.”


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