For more than a hundred years, American Sign Language (ASL) has been persecuted as a "lesser" language. It is a homegrown and complete language that has survived efforts to wipe it out.
Yet today, ASL is still considered "foreign" and not given the respect and protection it needs. Many states have passed laws allowing credit for ASL classes as a foreign language but they have stopped short of recognizing its benefits as a language of instruction in schools, despite studies proving its benefits for students.
Official federal recognition will finally give ASL the "welcome home" it needs.
Response to Petition
Thank you for your petition regarding promoting American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is vital for many individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. We agree that is an important aspect of American culture and that it facilitates communication among our citizens.
We reinforce its importance in numerous federal laws, regulations, and policies. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. These statutes require businesses and other organizations to provide auxiliary aids and services, including language services, when those aids and services are necessary to ensure effective communication. With respect to primary and secondary education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide a “free, appropriate public education” to students who require special education or related services because of a disability.
The Obama Administration’s record demonstrates a firm commitment to protecting and promoting the civil rights of people with disabilities, including individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and whose primary language is ASL. For example, in July 2012, the Department of Justice introduced its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, which will make sure that people with disabilities, especially those who are deaf or have hearing loss, have access to medical information through sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids. Additionally, the Administration is committed to ensuring all children in America receive a world-class education that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.
In the United States, state and local officials generally control K – 12 curricula. Under the IDEA, each child with a disability must be afforded the specialized instruction, related services and supplementary aids and services that he or she needs to ensure access to the curriculum. Appropriate services are determined by the team responsible for developing the student’s individualized education program (IEP) and may include ASL transliteration, interpreter services, or other services as required to provide a free, appropriate public education.
In our colleges and universities, the institutions themselves have primary control over the content of curriculum, although as stated above, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing and require the provision of auxiliary aids and services—which can include ASL interpreters—when those aids and services are necessary to ensure effective communication.
Nothing in federal law prohibits a school or university from having a curriculum that includes ASL instruction. Nothing prohibits courses taught in ASL for students with and without disabilities. The Department of Education has implemented policies, investments, and programs to ensure that all students, including students who are deaf or hard of hearing, have access to a world-class education, along with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through appropriate assessments aligned to high academic standards.
Thank you for taking the time to participate in the “We the People” petition process. In so doing, you have added your voice to an ongoing conversation at the White House regarding how federal states, localities, and communities across the country can cultivate an environment in which the 54 million Americans living with a disability are valued and respected. President Obama has repeatedly affirmed the importance of protecting the civil rights and dignity of every member of this great country.