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March 1, 2005

House passes bill designating sign language as foreign language

From: Tuscaloosa News, AL - Mar 1, 2005

Associated Press Writer
March 01, 2005

Hands were raised in the air in the gallery of the House Tuesday as deaf Alabama residents celebrated passage of a bill to make American Sign Language an official foreign language in Alabama schools.

Even a few lawmakers on the floor of the House raised their hands - a way of applauding for the deaf - when the bill passed the House on a 96-0 vote. It now goes to the Senate.

"I'm ecstatic and overwhelmed," said Judith Gilliam, president of the Alabama Association for the Deaf, using sign language and speaking through an interpeter. Gilliam, a retired teacher at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, said if the legislation passes the Senate it will make it easier for deaf students to achieve advanced high school and college degrees, which often require a student to take a foreign language.

Advocates for the deaf say it is hard for them to learn a traditional spoken foreign language like French or Spanish because they can't hear the words.

Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said he sponsored the bill at the request of his mother, a sociology teacher at Gadsden State Community College.

"Deaf students had come to her and said they couldn't continue to get a doctoral degree because of the foreign language requirement," Ford said.

Ford said there are more than 35,000 deaf Alabama residents who use American Sign Language. He said that making it an official foreign language would also encourage more people to become sign language interpreters.

"There is currently a shortage of interpreters for the classrooms," Ford said.

Rep. Jamie Ison, R-Mobile, served for 17 years as director of the Mobile regional center of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and the Blind. She said American Sign Language is the third most common language used in Alabama after English and Spanish.

"Hopefully this will introduce more people to the language and expand opportunities to learn sign language on Alabama campuses," Ison said.

State Schools Superintendent Joe Morton said he has no problem with deaf students being able to count sign language as a foreign language to qualify for advanced degrees. But he said he hopes the legislation won't discourage other students from learning languages like French, German, Spanish and Japanese, which he said they may need to compete for jobs in a global economy.

Copyright © 2002 The Tuscaloosa News