SASL Journal Vol. 1, No. 1 - Page 10

ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen deaf people that commenced with the Deaf President Now movement at Gallaudet University in 1988 (Christensen & Barnartt, 2003), resulted in sign language returning as the language of instruction in many schools and programs for deaf children. At present, the idea of deaf children and adults being signers may be widely accepted, but it does not mean that society’s support for ASL is strong or absolute. There continue to be forces that undermine ASL as a language. This is especially true concerning the current handling of the cochlear implant technology. Humphries, Kushalnagar, Mathur, Napoliu, Padden, Rathmann, and Smith (2012) examined the medical professionals and practices and argue that they have not proactively supported ASL for families with deaf children. Humphries et al. were alarmed by the increase in cochlear implantation of deaf children and the emphasis on speech and hearing training. They noted the limited critical period of brain plasticity for exposure to a natural language. If delayed, subsequent development of cognitive activities that rely on solid natural language acquisition may be limited. They also noted that the cochlear implant surgery has provided limited success within the deaf child population. Consequently, this emphasis on speech-exclusive approaches and the uneven success with cochlear implantation have created harmful effects on deaf children. The harmful effects for deaf children include linguistic deprivation and communication maltreatment. Humphries et al. argue that the medical professionals need to be truthful to and build trust with parents and deaf children. To prevent harmful effects, Humphries et al. suggest that the medical professionals and parents consider alternatives to speech-exclusive approaches. They propose remedies such as the use of sign language including ASL, and adjusting expectations of cochlear implant results. History of Teaching ASL to Hearing Students While the teaching of ASL to hearing students has a much shorter history as compared to deaf education, one must appreciate the fact that Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was a student of sign language. He learned the language informally through interactions with deaf individuals. The modern idea of a hearing person wanting to study ASL and easily taking a course at a college or university, for instance, had not developed. Moreover, the positive attitude that Gallaudet had about sign language must be described as an exception to the rule. In fact, oralism dominated deaf education during the late nineteenth century and for most of the twentieth century. This suggests that society had strong and negative opinions about signing or sign language. While it may appear that society has changed towards supporting ASL, this situation also appears to be somewhat contradictory. This is evidenced by deaf children receiving cochlear implants, who frequently do not have an opportunity to learn and use ASL. This state of affairs is testimony to the persistence of the social problem. One must also look critically at the description of ASL as a foreign language for study with hearing students. While ASL is most definitely an American language, it is put in a category with Spanish, French, and other foreign languages taught in the educational system. The sign language situation in the United States is complicated, and support for ASL is difficult to pinpoint. At the same time, the foreign language status for ASL allows more people in society to learn it than ever before. This stands as a valuable attribute. Social science research that has documented the American deaf community and culture (Davis, 1998; Frishberg, 1988; Padden & Humphries, 1988, 2005; Rutherford, 1988; Wilcox, 1992) is what empowered scholars and advocates to seek the adoption of ASL as a part of “foreign” or “world” language curricula. The number of states that formally recognize ASL as a foreign language has grown, beginning with 28 SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017 10