Not offering ASL classes is an accessibility issue

For an engaged university, SFU not teaching ASL is frankly embarrassing

Courtesy of Dynamic Language

by Molly Lorette, Peak Associate

Personally, I think that it is absolutely atrocious that SFU does not offer courses to learn American Sign Language (ASL). Currently, VCC, UBC, and Douglas College have all taken steps to ensure further accessibility for their students, so why hasn’t SFU?

From personal experience, I took French in high school as well as in university. While having a basic knowledge of how to communicate in French helped me plenty when I was in a French-speaking environment, I have never had to utilize those skills when out and about in the Lower Mainland. On the other hand, I have had multiple occasions where I have encountered someone who was either hard of hearing or deaf, particularly in my customer service job, and I have had difficulty communicating with them. 

Granted, I’ve found a few YouTube videos online with some basic signs to use in a work setting, but I find that as soon as the time comes to use the signs I come up blank. This is because I have never had the opportunity to learn ASL in a classroom setting.

Beyond my own experiences, the lack of ASL classes at SFU goes farther than a communication barrier. It is completely an accessibility issue.

Look at it this way. If I were originally a French speaker, I always have the ability to learn another language, or I can navigate my way through environments with the use of Google Translate or other devices. For those with hearing impairments, however, the range of navigation is far more limited. While the spectrum of hearing ability is vast, there is not always the option to have hearing aids for some individuals, nor is there the ability to lipread given the current circumstances (though seriously guys, keep wearing your masks). What remains is communicating through one’s phone or through pen and paper, which cannot always be feasible in certain situations. 

Further, before the point gets raised: “Isn’t ASL just a way of speaking English with your hands?” ASL is a completely unique language which harbours its own grammatical and lexical structure, as well as certain words and phrases with no English counterpart. There are even several families within the sign language sphere depending on where you’re from! It is quite literally its own language and culture which undeniably warrants its own academic program. Students of such an academic program could even provide more potential applicants for a career as an ASL interpreter, which is currently high in demand. 

According to a CBC article posted in 2018, the population of deaf individuals living in Canada sat at 340,000, whereas the number of individuals who were hard of hearing sat at 3.15 million. 

To me, it’s clear that SFU needs to take the extra step and implement a program to bring ASL to a wider array of students, for both the sake of Deaf/hard of hearing individuals, as well as hearing individuals.