Nationalize Twinkies. Construct a Death Star. Name a worldwide appreciation day for Michael Jackson. The petitions flooding the White House’s “We The People” website have become increasingly gag-oriented or unlikely to be taken seriously by the administration.
But a recent petition that has crossed the threshold needed for an official White House response may be different.
A petition to officially recognize American Sign Language as a “community language” and a “language of instruction in schools” has collected more than 27,000 signatures in less than a month. Petitions need to reach 25,000 signatures before the White House will officially issue a response.
ASL, the language used by the deaf community, has recently gained recognition as a foreign language in some states, meaning students can take it as credit for a foreign language. Adrean Clark, a Minnesota-based deaf cartoonist who created the petition, says foreign language recognition is a step forward but that it also perpetuates sign language’s marginalization.
Advocates of ASL have argued for years that there is a stigma toward signed language and a bias toward spoken ones, leading parents and schools to avoid teaching the language to children who are not deaf or hard of hearing.
“When I was a kid growing up deaf in a mainstream school, it was shameful to sign in public,” Clark tells Whispers. “Later I had the opportunity to go to a school for the deaf and be immersed in a rich American Sign Language environment. That experience left an indelible mark on my childhood—having full visual and tactile access to language was empowering.”
Clark points to the suspension of a hearing-impaired student whose signing was believed to be a safety hazard as another recent example of the stigmatization of ASL.
The National Association of the Deaf says it supports Clark’s petition.
“Spoken languages are accorded respect and recognized such as in Census reports and in the provision of medical care and judicial access,” NAD head Howard Rosenblum tells Whispers. “ASL deserves the same privileges and should be counted as a language on Census forms.”