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November 22, 2004

American Sign Language to get a hand at NU

From: The Daily Northwestern - USA - Nov 22, 2004

By Jessica Spruyt

November 22, 2004

Joe Messana hopes to fill a void at Northwestern. The Weinberg sophomore wants to raise awareness about American Sign Language -- the third most used language in the United States -- when he forms an ASL club during Winter Quarter because the school does not offer any courses on the topic.

The club's purpose is to teach people how to sign, explore deaf culture and be a social outlet for ASL communicators.

"It's just really infuriating that such a liberal and highly regarded university isn't aware," Messana said.

Although NU lacks programming, the University of Iowa's ASL program celebrated its 10-year anniversary this fall.

"It's a more utilitarian language for students for whom their career will occur in the U.S.," said Kimela Nelson, coordinator of Iowa's program.

Evolving from courses starting in 1978, Iowa's program grew from 25 students in its first semester in 1994 to about 378 students this fall semester, according to Nelson. The program offers ASL courses from Level 1 through Level 4, as well as various upper level courses including ASL literature. The program is not yet a minor but does offer an ASL/deaf studies certificate.

Dalila Avila, a Communication junior, said she also felt the need to have ASL offered at NU.

"Sign language is important to have at NU because if offered to everyone, we all have the opportunity to learn and open our minds to another aspect involved in our society," Avila said.

There are between 500,000 and 2,000,000 ASL users in the United States, according to the Web site of Gallaudet University, a school for deaf and hard of hearing students. ASL is a separate language with its own syntax, grammar and culture.

The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders' audiology and hearing sciences program offers an introductory ASL course Winter Quarter as independent study only for its graduate students.

Associate Prof. Susan Erler, who teaches audiology courses, said she hopes to keep the ASL course for graduate audiology students.

"All the students who go through the course come out with a better understanding not just of the language, but of the culture itself," said Iowa junior Tim Brandeau, co-chairman of the ASL Club at Iowa, in an e-mail. Brandeau is partially deaf with a cochlear implant.

ASL is important with the growing need for interpreters and for fields such as speech and language pathology, audiology, education and psychology that come into contact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Nelson said.

"It gives (students) an advantage," she said.

"We use a lot of sign language with a lot of language disorders," said Paula McGuire, director of the Evanston Campus Speech and Language Clinic and an assistant professor.

"More and more colleges are offering ASL as a foreign language," added McGuire, an Iowa alumna who took ASL courses there. "I'm a little surprised (NU is not)."

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