Sign Language in Schools (or lack thereof)

I'd like to tell you what a thrill it is when hearing people unexpectedly start using sign language in unexpected places.

In a previous article I mentioned a teenage CODA working in a fast-food burger joint. This kid caught my family and friends off guard -- and absolutely delighted us --when he switched from voice to sign language as he took our order.

(Note to any Web surfers who stumbled across this article and are new to the deaf community: CODAs are Children of Deaf Adults.)

The kid is still at it. So much, in fact, that anytime my family and our deaf friends walk in the door, you can see the staff at this place grab him from wherever he is and throw him in front of the cash register. It happened again recently and it motivated me to write about it once more.

(By the way, sorry I'm being vague -- I prefer not to give specific details about underage subjects without appropriate parental permission)

It doesn't matter if this CODA is working the fries section or mopping the bathrooms. Anytime a deaf person is within 500 feet of the store, this kid is immediately placed up front.

Yes, I know that there are horror stories about CODAs being forced into assuming the role of sign language interpreter in all of the wrong places. But I'm going to grant this kid and his co-workers a Mulligan. The kid seems to really enjoy his job. His co-workers don't jump out of the way as if to say Watch out! Clear the perimeter or you'll catch their deaf! Instead, they seem genuinely fascinated to see how people can communicate clearly and effectively through sign language.

And these are teenagers who are fascinated by sign language. I can tell you right now that if their high schools offered ASL 101, they would be among the first people to sign up (no pun intended).

Which brings me back to a point I've made many times:

There is absolutely NO EXCUSE not to add American Sign Language as a legitimate course of instruction in schools and colleges all over the country.

And I by legitimate I mean for credit. ASL is a widely used language that benefits countless people right here, right now. I can't tell you enough how often a group of deaf people have been surprised by hearing employees somewhere who knew sign language either because they were CODAs or because they had a friend or relative somewhere who was deaf.

It shouldn't be up to the CODAs to build a bridge between deaf and hearing. It should be deaf and hearing people everywhere, and their respective schools.

Deaf people have been doing their part for years. Not only do countless deaf people use a clever assortment of universal gestures, pen and paper, speech, and numerous other strategies such as pointing at a menu, but I promise you that most if not all of these deaf people at one time or the other took -- or were forced to take -- speech lessons in their respective schools.

That's another argument right there: if you can provide speech therapy for deaf kids in deaf schools, why not provide sign language for hearing kids in hearing schools? Whatever happened to "meeting halfway?"

I'll get off my soapbox now. This is nothing new and in fact this is a rehash of an earlier article I wrote, ASL With Fries.

But as I continue to see this CODA and his enthusiastic co-workers, it continues to gnaw at me that these high school kids are missing out on an invaluable learning opportunity -- and will continue to miss out until their school districts recognize the value of sign language.

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