Sign language should be an option for the mandatory language classes in public schools
By Ash Sabinin, Contributor
It is difficult to find any logical reason to not offer sign language classes in public schools and there are so many benefits to making it more accessible for everyone.
Sign language is used amongst people in the deaf and hard of hearing community; however, it is less common in the hearing community. I believe American Sign Language (ASL) should be taught to everyone to ensure that there’s no limit to interactions or self-expression. The current lack of knowledge of sign language amongst the general public creates a divide between the hearing and hard of hearing communities. It is so important for hearing people to learn how to use sign language to talk with people who are hard of hearing or deaf; not only does it allow them to communicate with each other more effectively, but it also promotes understanding and compassion between the two groups. By teaching young people to sign, you’re giving them the ability to converse and create life-long inter-community connections.
My sister, who currently attends New Westminster Secondary School, had an interest in learning sign language and ended up taking a class through a Burnaby school district because there were no options available in her own district. She applied for an introductory course and was placed on a waitlist for months, so I asked for her thoughts on the experience.
“I wanted to learn ASL because it’s a really beautiful language, but also because I believe it has the ability to diversify my education and allow me to be able to communicate with a larger range of people.” She feels it’s necessary for more people to learn ASL so everyone can better interact with sign language users who try to accommodate our language.
“When I finally decided to take ASL as my language course, I was disappointed that it wasn’t offered at my school, and I ended up taking it through Burnaby online. Although I had a great teacher, I found that trying to learn a language by myself, especially one like ASL, discouraged me and consequently made it much more difficult.”
We need to make learning sign language more accessible for everyone to prevent others from having this same experience. The lengthy process deters many people who have an interest in learning to sign and even if they do wait the months before joining the class, the environment is often isolating and not conducive to learning. Had sign language been offered at her school, the chances of her becoming discouraged would have been significantly lower.
Most students were required to take language classes throughout high school and yet, most of them would struggle considerably to ask someone for help in the language they studied. A friend of mine took the required French classes, but when asked if she could ask for help or say there’s an emergency, she laughed and said the only thing she remembers is “Une bibliothèque.” Obviously, students are not really learning the language, which I suspect is caused by both a lack of interest and a lack of practice.
According to the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, 1 in 10 Canadians experience hearing loss. So the chances of encountering someone who uses sign language are very high. Not only would it prepare students for the inevitable times they need to communicate with a sign language user, but it would also create a plethora of job opportunities for hearing-impaired individuals.
In our current society, people who are deaf or hard of hearing face a multitude of challenges finding good, steady employment. There is a lack of stable, well-paying and appropriate jobs for sign language users. Making sign language classes available in public schools would create many new, consistent and well-suited jobs for those who struggle to get a job due to hearing loss. Not only would it create many new teaching positions but also curriculum creators and other opportunities. There really are no drawbacks to making sign language classes more accessible to people.
It is difficult to find any logical reason to not offer sign language classes in public schools and there are so many benefits to making it more accessible for everyone. There is already great public interest in learning to sign, we just need to make it more readily available for people and implementing it into public schools will help increase the range of people being given the chance to learn. Overall, I think making sign language classes available in all public schools will only help strengthen communication within our society because hearing people can learn to sign but hearing-impaired people cannot learn to hear!