Teaching Sign language in our schools

The St Thomas Blog in sign language (ASL)

“Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” – Helen Keller

Each year over one thousand babies will be born without hearing, joining a growing population of 3,500,000 people with some form of hearing impairment, 350,000 of which will be totally deaf. That number will rise as younger generations are exposed to louder music with much more regularity. The birth of personal music players, Walkman, CD players, mp3 players, have all increased both the opportunities to listen to music through headphones, but have also increased the decibel level of that music. Modern music players, such as those built into cell phones, have technology aimed at preventing hearing loss from loud music but it may be too late to save a generations hearing. The hosts of the popular children’s television show Blues Clues, incorporated sign language into the episodes, signing the words sorry, thanks, hello, goodbye and others as they talked. Babies and young children watching Blues Clues associate the signs with the words, thus teaching them the basics of sign language.

In Ontario, to graduate high school you must have one credit in French as a Second Language, making it a compulsory subject, although you can choose to use a substitute credit instead. French isn’t the only language taught in schools. Spanish, Italian, Polish, there are many language options, with their availability often based upon demand, and the staff to teach it. If a student is deaf, he or she will often be assigned an EA (Educational Assistant) to help translate classes.

Out of a population of about 33 million Canadians, 25 million speak primarily one language, either French or English, with 2 million accounting for other languages. This means that 6 million have the ability to speak at least two languages fluently.

With a growing population of hearing impaired Canadians, sign language will become a necessary form of communication for hundreds of thousands, so shouldn’t it be an option to be taken in all schools? While French should remain compulsory as long as the requirements for graduation need it, many students could choose sign language rather than Spanish or another language often offered. While the ability to speak French is useful when you live in a country that has French speakers but American Sign Language is used throughout North America.

In North America there are more profoundly deaf people than there are who speak French, shouldn’t children be taught a way to communicate with those people?

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