Sign Language Sweeps into Dominican Curriculum

By Sara Angel

October 31, 2012

For the first time at Dominican University, an American Sign Language (ASL) course is offered to students as fulfillment for foreign language credit.

There are currently 12 students enrolled in instructor Deborah Hauck Ford’s ASL course. None of these students are deaf and none of them have prior experience with the language.

The course will not only teach students the language of the deaf, but also its history and the culture surrounding it.

“Learning to communicate is not enough. First, one must understand the deaf culture,” Hauck Ford said. Aside from instructing the class at Dominican, Hauck Ford also works full time at Triton College’s Center for Access and Accommodative Services.

ASL and the deaf culture started to gain recognition in the 1960s. Some of the first ASL interpreters were children of deaf people. To keep strangers from knowing their personal business, deaf parents used their children to communicate with doctors, teachers and others. Not many people outside of those with the disability and their families knew the language.

The deaf culture, the way the hearing impaired live, arose from sign language. This culture, like many others, has changed over time. The exposure to it is steadily increasing.

“The difference between hearing and deaf really has to do with history,” Hauck Ford added.

The request for an ASL class at Dominican was made a few years ago when the university changed its foreign language requirements. The Disability Support Services office originally wanted the course to be a substitution for students with disabilities because of their difficulty with processing language. ASL was approved by the Committee on Shared Undergraduate Academic Experience, an ASL accredited institution, to satisfy the language requirement for all students, not just those with disabilities.

ASL I and II are just like any other foreign language class, with each being worth three credits. The major difference between ASL and other foreign language classes is that this is a hybrid class, meaning both sections are taught within one semester. If this course is taken to satisfy the foreign language requirement, the student enrolled must complete both sections. Students interested in the class who only want to take the first section are welcomed to.

The class structure includes in-class readings accompanied with online components such as discussions. It is encouraged for students to display their creativity when doing these assignments and other projects.

The class syllabus states, “This course provides an introduction of Deaf culture, the development of sign language, vocabulary and conversation as well as an understanding of American Sign Language grammar. Students will study the history of Deaf culture, its values and actively participate in classroom activities to enhance their ability to communicate using American Sign Language.”

Dominican does not have a large deaf community; therefore many of the students currently enrolled in ASL were encouraged to take the class because it could be helpful in their majors, social work, teaching, etc., since people in the deaf community are becoming more and more common to work with.

“We were working closely with the Graduate School of Education’s Special Education faculty and saw the benefits of being able to offer the course to our students in the Special Education Program,” Judy Paulus, coordinator of Disability Support Services said. “Throughout the summer the Graduate School of Education worked on establishing an ASL class that could be taken by undergrads and graduate students alike.”

No experience with ASL is required to take the class.  For more details, visit the ASL 456 and ASL 457 course pages on Dominican’s online course catalog.