Petition To Officially Recognize American Sign Language Reaches Threshold For White House Response

FE_DA_121211_asl425x283Nationalize 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.”

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