Va. May Count Sign Language as Foreign Language

Bill could make courses more accessible

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Associated Press
    She had them at hello. When Michelle Obama greeted students from the Illinois School for the Deaf in sign, the kids knew they'd met a winner.

    A measure that would offer sign language as a foreign language in Virginia's high schools and universities is headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell.

    The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation during the 2011 session that would put Virginia in a class with 35 states where sign language counts toward foreign-language requirements.

    It is currently at the discretion of state colleges and universities to count high school and college American Sign Language courses toward entrance requirements. The bill would make the credit mandatory.

    If signed into law by McDonnell, the bill also could make sign language courses more accessible to the deaf and hearing-impaired, as well as their friends and family. The legislation was sponsored by Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton,after he received a letter from students at Loudoun Valley High School last winter. The students were seeking a sponsor for legislation and Bell jumped at the chance.

    "My interest stemmed from having grown up in proximity to the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton," Bell told the Richmond Times Dispatch. "Over time, I've seen so many inabilities to communicate with that population and a lot of barriers thrown up as a result."

    Sen. Frank M. Ruff, Jr., R-Mecklenburg, was among six senators who voted against the bill. "I'm not real crazy about setting policy up here saying that everyone needs to walk in lock-step," he told the Times Dispatch, contending that such decisions are better left to individual university's boards of trustees. "It's called a foreign-language requirement. I'm not sure how American Sign Language can be foreign."