Why ASL should be taught in schools


Emme Orme

How to finger-spell ASL in American Sign Language.

Sitting in a crowded restaurant, a teenage girl looks over the menu and waits for her friends to join her. She does not make conversation with anyone and never looks up when the surrounding customers’ chairs as they screech against the rough tile floor. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard, yet the girl does not notice. When a waitress approaches the girl, ready to ask for her order, the girl shakes her head and points at her ears. The waitress continues to raise her voice in a last attempt to get the girl to hear her, getting louder and louder, causing the attention of other customers. It was impossible though; the girl was deaf.

Interactions like this happen every day and are normal for the majority of the people in the deaf community, which is unacceptable. If every student was required to learn American Sign Language (ASL) in school, interactions like this would be almost non-existent. Just a little extra effort could make a significant change between the deaf and hearing worlds. 

Over the past few years, ASL has become important to me. This is due to the fact that I feel as though everyone should be heard, no matter their situation. I first got into ASL around 2019, by watching a television show called “Switched at Birth.” “Switched at Birth” is a television show streamed on ABC Family that has truly brought the American Sign Language and Deaf Culture of today’s generation. It is the first television show to feature several deaf actors/characters and entire scenes shot using only ASL. This show taught me most of the signs I know today. “Switched at Birth” has inspired so many opportunities for not only myself but for others around the world. 

Some people cannot always have a translator on hand to help communicate with others. Some cannot afford a translator, or just simply do not want one. This is just one reason why ASL needs to be taught in schools across the country. ASL is not just valuable to people that are deaf, but to everyone else as well.

ASL is primarily used by both Americans and Canadians who are either deaf or hearing impaired. As of now, there are approximately 250,000 – 500,000 ASL users in the United States and Canada, most of whom use ASL as their primary language. In addition, ASL is used by children that are not hearing impaired or have deaf parents.  

Children can benefit by learning while in elementary school, whether they are deaf or hearing. The sooner people are exposed to sign language, the more fluent they will become. There is no reason why schools should be limited to languages such as Spanish, French, and German when there are people down the block who deserve to be understood. A large majority of the population are oblivious to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people across the country use ASL every day of their life. ASL is not random hand gestures or charades, it is an important form of communication. According to a study at Gallaudet University, (a university for deaf and hard of hearing students) done by Michael A. Karchmer (a former professor in the Department of Education Foundations and Research at Gallaudet University and former director of the Gallaudet Research Institute), ASL is the fourth most used language in America, yet still not a required course in schools. 

The number of languages used in American homes, as identified by the various federal and state surveys, is quite large. However, American Sign Language is neither on the list of non-English languages used at home nor are its users counted in either the general or school populations by every state in the union.

ASL is deeply rooted in the deaf community and its culture. Learning ASL in classes promotes better awareness of and sensitivity to the hearing impaired community. As someone learning ASL, you will develop a strong appreciation for deaf culture, as well as promoting understanding and acceptance of ASL among others.

ASL is an intricate language that is sometimes challenging to learn but can be mastered by millions of people. If just the simple basics of ASL were taught, hearing people would be able to respectfully help a signing deaf person at any time. 

The language also opens itself up too many job opportunities for future careers. Picture this, you’re walking into a government building, doctor’s office, or a restaurant. Going up to the person at the front desk, she starts to have a conversation, but you have to read her lips to understand. Life would be a thousand times more difficult. That is how it is for deaf people all over the world constantly. To go to certain offices and buildings people have to hire interpreters to go with them, which many cannot afford.

Take a few steps in their shoes. These are not foreigners or outcasts; these are people who are being forced to be seen as separate from society. The real issue is the language barrier that has prohibited progress despite the simple solution: allow students to learn this language, so the deaf and hearing-impaired community will not feel so isolated from everyone else. They are the same as you and me. People, human beings.