House bill will grant foreign language credit for ASL

Virginia Fairchild

Students scanning the schedule book searching for a foreign language that interests them may soon have another option.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Joplin) will, if passed, enable students to take courses in American Sign Language to satisfy their foreign language requirements.

Stevenson, who graduated from the University of North Texas, studied ASL to fulfill his foreign language credits.

“I also took Spanish, and ASL was far harder than Spanish ever thought about being,” he said.

Dr. Roy Miller, executive director of the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said having the ability to take ASL as a foreign language “would level the playing field” for students who have disabilities.

“It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a deaf student to learn a ‘spoken’ foreign language, such as French, German or Russian, in only a couple of semester courses,” he said. “Therefore, that student might be denied admission to a Missouri university because he or she had no ‘foreign language’ in high school.”

Miller said the bill would also enable students who are proficient in the language to test out and receive credit for taking the course.

“This bill would benefit many hearing students who want to study American Sign Language in order to improve communications between themselves and people who are deaf,” he said. “Hearing students can get credit for dead languages such as classical Greek or Latin, yet they are denied the option of getting credit for a living language, that is one of the most frequently used languages in the United States today.”

Dr. Jay R. Moorman, head of communications, said the problem with studying ASL in place of a foreign language is that there is no written component that he’s aware of.

“I think it should be recognized; it is a language,” he said.

Moorman said he’s in favor of acknowledging ASL as an “other” or foreign language.

House Bill 97 would not require schools to offer the language, but it would ensure that students who are studying ASL in an educational institution get foreign language credit. It also states the MCDHH would “provide assistance on development and teaching of these courses.”

Miller said his commission would be glad to help out by directing schools to teaching materials and providing them with information about the American Sign Language Teachers Association.

“We can provide names of highly-skilled ASL interpreters in the State of Missouri who might be interested in full- or part-time work,” he said.

The number of colleges and universities that offer ASL is growing nationwide, Miller said.

“Unfortunately, however, the number of colleges in Missouri that teach ASL classes is extremely small,” he said. “Hopefully, the passage of this bill would encourage more Missouri schools to offer ASL classes.”

Stevenson said he thinks students who acquire the skills to “speak” ASL perform a service to their communities.

“I feel strongly that they should get credit for that,” he said.