FREDERICK, Md. — For one group of friends recently, a walk through a sun-warmed street in Braddock Heights was just as much about moving their hands as their feet.
To promote American Sign Language, local resident Bob Walker and six others hit the pavement recently, conversing through hand motions as they went.
For Walker, the roughly four miles he covered is only the start of his journey to raise awareness of sign language and the deaf community. Walker, 74, is planning to spend the month of May traveling more than 400 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
“I am walking for ASL because I earnestly want the hearing Americans to recognize our basic everyday language known as ASL,” Walker is quoted on the walk’s website as saying. “We are comfortable with our language and we want the Americans to accept our language as official.”
In an online petition effort launched in November, almost 35,000 people have asked the White House to recognize sign language as a community language.
“ASL is still considered ‘foreign’ and not given the respect and protection it needs. Many states have passed laws allowing credit for ASL classes as a foreign language but they have stopped short of recognizing its benefits as a language of instruction in schools,” the petition states.
Several of the walkers with Walker said deaf people can face obstacles both in academic and work settings.
“Hearing people get promoted easier,” said Joan Harvey, of Gaithersburg.
Woody Boxer, who participated in the recent walk, said he hopes the Walker’s trek down the Pacific Coast Highway will attract the attention of hearing people and encourage some to learn sign language. The need for sign language interpreters is great, he said.
The walk in California is a project of the organization Facundo Element, which works against oppression and misrepresentation of deaf people.
As Boxer interpreted, Walker signed that he’s used to discrimination against deaf people, but that doesn’t mean he’s resigned to it. He said he believes society can change.
About 15 walkers have signed up for the monthlong event in California, and each must raise $1,000 to participate. According to Walker’s fundraising website, a quarter of the money gathered will flow toward a research grant centered on the benefits of sign language.
While Walker said he hasn’t yet met his fundraising goal, he will cover the difference if he comes up short.
Those who strolled with Walker through his hometown of Braddock Heights this weekend expressed their appreciation for his dedication.
“He’s just an amazing person. I’m 62, and it’s hard for me to keep up with him,” said Boxer, watching Walker striding ahead of him.