ASL field offers opportunity to close interpreter gap

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American Sign Language is used by a sizable minority of Americans, with different estimates placing the number of speakers between 500,000 and 2 million deaf and hearing people. Distinguishing itself from English with the use of body movements, postures and facial expressions to communicate, ASL is a complex language.

Three years ago, Tulane introduced ASL curricula to its linguistics department. Denise Crochet, a nationally certified interpreter, has been involved in the program since its inception and teaches varying levels of the language.

“Knowing American Sign Language can benefit a variety of fields since deaf people are everywhere,” Crochet said. “All fields and occupations may at some point encounter a deaf person using their service.”

Crochet said she is interested in the eventual establishment of an interpreter’s training program. There are many employment opportunities in this field due to the national shortage of interpreters. 

“There is high demand for ASL interpreters, and the profession offers a great deal of flexibility and challenge, as well as constant learning opportunities,” Taylor McMahon, Tulane linguistics graduate student and ASL teacher, said.

Sophomore Reagan Garvin, a student in American Sign Language II and an intro to ASL to English Interpretation class, said she would love to see an ASL minor or major established. 

“I think ASL is invaluable at Tulane,” Garvin said. “There is a huge need for interpreters, and I think an ASL program at a prestigious institution like Tulane could encourage this career.”

Part of the appeal of ASL is that it combines linguistic knowledge with a social and cultural understanding of different types of people who communicate in a variety of ways.

“Personally, I like studying ASL because it combines theoretical linguistics, cultural studies and responds to a social need — to facilitate communication between hearing people who don’t know sign language and deaf people who do,” McMahon said. 

Both McMahon and Crochet said they are hopeful about the potential for ASL courses to count as a foreign language requirement in the future.

“So many students have expressed an interest in ASL,” Crochet said. “It is currently housed in the Linguistics Department. However, several students mentioned petitioning for these classes to fulfill their foreign language requirements.”

As the program continues to grow, students will develop skills needed to communicate with many groups of people and in turn, the accessibility of Tulane will increase for the hearing impaired.