Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Virginia Assembly OK's sign language for foreign language credit in schools

From The Washington Examiner:

Virginia's high schools and colleges could soon be accepting American Sign Language to satisfy a foreign language requirement.

The legislation that passed Virginia's House and Senate and is now awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell's signature requires all colleges and universities to accept ASL courses as a fulfillment for any foreign language requirement. It is currently up to the discretion of the university.

"What we would hope is that as it continues to gain popularity, that a lot of the private schools will also get on board [by offering ASL courses] because they have to compete," Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, who sponsored the bill, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Maryland is one of 35 states that already recognize ASL as a language and grants credit for ASL courses as a general studies requirement. The District's Gallaudet University is a school for hearing-impaired students. Its research into ASL in the 1960s showed that it is a true language with its own grammar and syntax. Gallaudet considers itself to be a bilingual institution by helping its students through both ASL and English.

"There is every reason for American Sign Language to be granted the same status by the states and their educational institutions as any other complete language," Gallaudet said a statement Wednesday.

Bell, meanwhile, credited students who helped write the bill. One of them was 18-year-old Hollis Erickson, a former Loudoun Valley High School student now attending Elon University in North Carolina. Erickson grew up with moderate hearing loss, and became involved with the hearing impaired community when she was young. A deaf neighbor taught her sign language, the Times-Dispatch reported.

The students who helped write the bill went to Richmond to offer testimony. The bill passed 95-3 in the House and 34-6 in the Senate.

"I think that really helped," Bell told the newspaper. "They were so committed to this, so focused on seeing it through and really got involved in the process."

McDonnell is in the process of looking over this and all of the other measures sent to him by the Virginia General Assembly. He legally has until April 6 to sign or veto legislation, said press secretary Jeff Caldwell.