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February 5, 2003

Bill would open ASL to college classrooms

From: Jefferson City News Tribune, MO - 05 Feb 2003

The Fulton Sun

Students at Missouri's state colleges and universities may soon be able to count American Sign Language among their course options, if new legislation passes the state Legislature.

A bill sponsored by 50th district Rep. Vicki Walker, D-Kansas City, would see ASL afforded the same status as Spanish and other foreign languages. Current legislation permits public school districts to teach ASL as a foreign language but does not address colleges and universities.

Among stipulations, House Bill 310 would allow students to take ASL for academic credit, receive credit for demonstrating ASL proficiency, receive foreign language credit for the subject and meet foreign language requirements by taking ASL courses.

Walker worked 12 years as an interpreter prior to joining the House this year.

"ASL is a language in its own right," Walker said, calling the language, "a whole different form of communication."

Barbara Garrison, superintendent of Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton, said she sees several benefits of such legislation, including increased awareness of ASL and thereby deaf culture.

Such a bill, Garrison added, might open the door for a greater number of MSD students to pursue a college career. At present only a small percentage of MSD graduates go on to higher education.

At present William Woods University in Fulton is one of few schools in the nation -- and the only one in Missouri -- to offer a four-year degree in ASL and interpreting. Carolyn Ball, director of the WWU program, said similar legislation has been introduced in the state before and failed.

Both the Modern Language Association and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language have recognized ASL as a modern language, Ball said. A sticky point in past deliberations, she noted, has been a reluctance to term ASL a "foreign" language.

Natalie Long, chairwoman of the MSD Board of Advisors and mother of a deaf son, said she too sees value in recognizing ASL at a similar level to foreign languages.

"I think there would be more (students) interested in taking this language if it were offered," Long said, adding that she feels ASL is often overlooked. "It's a very natural language."

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