The New Jersey Senate Education Committee just approved a new bill for submission to the full Senate that would require school districts to accept proficiency in American Sign Language (ASL) as satisfying any state or local world language requirements. Thus, students with strong ASL skills will be able to forgo other language courses if they so choose.
The wording of the statute is simple: “Notwithstanding the provisions of any law, rule or regulation to the contrary, American Sign Language shall be recognized as a world language for the purpose of meeting any State or local world language requirement for high school graduation.” http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/S2000/1760_I1.HTM
Under current law, Districts already allow students with sufficient skills in more traditional world languages to opt out of high school foreign language courses. ASL will now be added to the list.
The bill does not require a District to provide ASL instruction, but it is hoped that it will encourage more Districts in New Jersey to do so. In turn, this would lead to large increases in the number of people in New Jersey who will be able to communicate with persons with disabilities that utilize ASL.
Some District’s already provide ASL instruction to children with special needs who require such training as part of their individualized special education plans or as part of their Section 504 Plans. Some Districts already also provide such instruction to the general education community as well, which in my opinion increases the level of true inclusion in those schools and their surrounding communities for persons who rely on ASL to communicate.
It is certainly a welcome step forward to conceptualize ASL as simply another language that people use around the world, rather than treating it as some mysterious form of communication that is only understood by those with auditory disabilities, which is how most people now see it.
Indeed, because ASL is utilized across many world cultures and geographic areas, it may be a bit more of a “world language” than the traditional languages currently taught in our schools.