College of Education Offers American Sign Language, Offers Deaf Studies Minor – [email protected]
It is perhaps unsurprising that English and Spanish are the two most used languages in the United States. But the third?
Because of the estimated 11.5 million people in the United States — including 386,000 in Michigan — who are deaf or hard of hearing, that designation goes to American Sign Language (ASL).
Wayne State University College of Education is developing a minor in Deaf Studies to educate more people to better communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. As it expands its programs to include teacher certification, the college also plans to actively recruit students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“We would like to train teachers who can teach deaf students; after all, we are a college of education,” said Kathryn Roberts, acting assistant dean of teacher education. “There is definitely more need than capacity in the state right now to create teachers.”
To help develop the curriculum and build the curriculum, the college hired Emily Jo Noschese, Tenure Track Assistant Professor of Bilingual and Bicultural Education. Noschese, who has completed her doctorate. in linguistics at the University of Hawai’i at Māona, is fourth generation deaf.
“My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews are all deaf, so it’s in my family heritage,” Noschese said. “I would say my situation is quite rare. About 96% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, and some fall ill, which can lead to deafness.
Roberts says Noschese helped identify and hire five part-time ASL instructors.
“It’s really important in our division that we have people from the Deaf community who understand teaching Deaf culture to us,” Roberts said. “Dr. Noschese was instrumental in finding us suitable people to teach our classes.
With the new instructors on board, the College of Education offered eight sections in ASL I and II this semester, and all filled up quickly. Most students are non-educational majors who take the courses to meet the language requirements for two semesters. The College of Education has no language requirement unless students become language teachers.
“They’re for everyone on campus,” Noschese said. “At some point, everyone will encounter deaf people in their workforce. If students become doctors, they will have deaf patients. If they become lawyers, they will have deaf clients. Essentially, ASL classes or the minor will help students know what to expect when meeting Deaf people and help them interact better with the Deaf community.
Highlighting the interest, ASL III – taught by Noschese – is also being offered for the first time this semester. Although it does not meet a language requirement, it also attracts students.
The proposed minor will also include ASL IV and courses in finger spelling, numbers, grammar and deaf culture.
Noschese thinks the minor can help dispel misconceptions, such as deaf people don’t make noise, that everyone can read lips, and that sign language interferes with speech development.
“Being deaf is not visible,” Noschese said. “Many people have probably encountered or stood next to a deaf person without realizing it. Many deaf people experience frustration or encounter obstacles because of hearing people’s ignorance. This is not not their fault; we just need to keep educating individuals.
Roberts said the construction of the Deaf Studies minor has already prompted the college to reassess access issues.
“For example, we typically cap our classes at 25 or 30 students,” Roberts said. “But when we do sign language lessons, we’ve kept it at 20 because you need to be able to see people’s hands and facial expressions. You can’t do that in Zoom areas when there’s more one screen. You need to be able to see everyone on one screen and really be able to see them. It’s not just a class and a subject that you use sign language as the language of instruction; it requires a whole another perspective.
The ASL classes and the proposed minor will all be offered synchronously online to be accessible to people wherever they are.