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October 7, 2005

OSU pioneering sign language degree

From: Daily O'Collegian, OK - Oct 7, 2005

Carson Cunningham
Staff Writer

The OSU English department is on the verge of becoming the only department in the nation to offer a bachelor's degree in American Sign Language.

"We'd be first in the nation to have an American Sign Language bachelor's program," said Sandie Busby, who works for Student Disabilities Services at Oklahoma State University. "We've also looked into a master's program because there's not any master's programs in ASL English bilingual studies."

The state of Oklahoma has passed several laws that require interpreters to have a bachelor's degree this past year. Such laws prevent unqualified interpreters from working in classrooms to help educate the deaf and prevent errors in translation in court. OSU currently offers a signing course in the communication sciences and disorders field but does not offer a bachelor's degree in the language.

Since the department announced it would be adding a sign language studies program it has garnered national interest, Busby said.

"The interpreting community has been waiting for this forever," she said. "We've had people from North Carolina, we've had people from the northern states, from Texas, from all the surrounding states ask about it."

While still in the proposal stages, Busby said the department hopes to make the program available in January.

Although the department has yet to finalize the program, Busby said the department has identified the need for the program.

"Between Carol (Moder) with the English and the linguistics department, and Dr. (Thomas) Wikle, who is on the committee who approves new programs, they agreed to the idea."

Before the new laws, people who knew sign language to a certain extent acted as interpreters. Rebecca Damron, who oversees English as a second language in the department, said this has led to problems involving the education of the hearing impaired.

"This has been a really important thing for deaf people and for the interpreters because the quality of interpretation in the school systems for deaf students had been very uneven, resulting from lack of standards for interpreters," she said.

Damron then explained the need for sign language courses to be made available.

"As a result there have to be educational programs in place in order to train these interpreters," she said. "OSU-OKC and TCC have two-year programs to get people started in sign language interpretation, but having a bachelor's degree is going to be very important."

While the education of interpreters is a main area of focus, Busby insists the program will be open for anyone who wants to learn.

"This is not only for interpreters," Busby said. "It's for deaf people that are interested in language or anybody else that is interested in a different language who likes to study language."

In addition to the sign language program, the department is also looking to add sign language as a foreign language. Busby said there has been a strong interest in the field of study.

"One hundred to 200 people have requested this last year to have ASL as a foreign language that they can take as a credit," Busby said.

Although OSU has a signing course, Busby said it doesn't teach the actual language. Busby said the sign language program is a better fit in the English department because the communication sciences and disorders field focused more on speech and less on learning the language.

"We're more on getting them educated and working on speech secondary," Busby said. "It's a language and has semantics and grammar so it fits in a language department."

Elizabeth Whelan is a communication sciences and disorders junior and has taken the sign language course. Whelan said more fields of study would interest her and be good for the university.

"I think it would be very good for the school. I think it would help a lot of different majors and I would definitely be interested in taking more sign language," Whalen said.

© 2005 Daily O'Collegian