Tuesday, July 12, 2011

UCLA eyes adding more American Sign Language course offerings

From The Daily Bruin, the student newspaper at UCLA:

Unlike most kids, Valerie Rose (pictured) did not mumble “mommy” or “daddy” as her first words.

Instead, at six months old, she began to sign with her hands.

Rose, a fourth-year geography and environmental studies student, comes from a family of deaf parents and two adopted deaf siblings. Rose herself has been deaf in her right ear since birth.

As her first language, American Sign Language is independent of English, Rose said. Signs are applied in different ways, often depending on the emotional state of the signer.

“(American Sign Language) is very distinct and has its own structural properties,” Rose said. “There is a deaf culture that goes hand in hand (with the language).”

In recent years, momentum has been gathering at UCLA for an expansion in American Sign Language course offerings. Students interested in learning more about the culture and language were able to enroll in a new course through the linguistics department.

The Session A class, Linguistics 3, is titled “American Sign Language: Structure and Culture.” It is an introduction to the study of linguistics, but instead of focusing on spoken language, Linguistics 3 emphasizes the cultural component of the deaf community, said Natasha Abner, the teaching assistant for the class.

In addition, administrators have begun to plan for sign language classes to be offered in the future.

“Three parties within academic leadership have set aside funding for American Sign Language classes,” said Reem Hanna-Harwell, assistant dean of humanities.

The proposed classes would fulfill foreign language requirements, Hanna-Harwell added.

Student interest brought about the initiative, said Lucy Blackmar, assistant vice provost of undergraduate education initiatives.

Rose said such steps have been a long time coming.

“I have been waiting to see this happen since I started UCLA,” she said.

Students have also taken initiative to meet the deaf world in part through a new club, Humans Establishing Awareness Regarding Deafness.

The club is intended to help students interested in learning or practicing sign language, said HEARD founder Moses Sumney, a fourth-year English student and Daily Bruin copy editor.

Before formal classes can be created, a proposal outlining the curriculum must first be designed and approved by the Faculty Executive Committee of the College of Letters and Sciences, Hanna-Harwell said.

If the classes prove to be sustainable and effective, then the university will continue to offer them, Hanna-Harwell said.