Last week, Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that the high schools in Ontario would start offering for-credit courses in American Sign Language (ASL). I take this as a huge step for Canada in the right direction.
For me, language has always been a way to express myself and not being able to understand a big chunk of population, or not being able to communicate effectively with them has always felt like an impediment. Learning sign-language and being able to communicate with the Deaf community, that too from the high school age, is truly an important step in education and inclusivity.
On May 13, 2019, a federal bill, Bill C-81 recognized American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language, and Indigenous Sign Languages as the primary sign languages for communication by Deaf persons in Canada. While that was an important step, more concrete steps towards making the language more commonplace, like with Ontario’s decision, are needed today.
While there are several sign languages all over the world, sign language as a whole, is considered to be the fourth most popular language in the world. So for a language that popular, and that necessary, we are still not learning or teaching it in our schools. At the very least, we should be encouraging those who want to learn the language, not because it is a “cool” new thing to do but because it opens up a whole new world for the hearing community and the Deaf community alike.
Historically, those hard of hearing or Deaf have been isolated and alienated, either because no one else knows how to communicate with them or because they have been looked down upon.
According to a 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, there were 874,600 Canadians with a hearing disability at that point in time. The Canadian Hearing Society has estimated that there are 3.15 millions Canadians who are hard of hearing and 340,000 Canadians who are deaf. However, there seems to be no recent statistics available on exactly how many Canadians are hard of hearing and how many are Deaf. Which means an unknown number, upwards of 3.15 million Canadians, continue to remain alienated from schools, playgrounds, workplaces.
As any human being would want, don’t you think those from the Deaf community would also want to be comfortable communicating with others in their first language? And if people from all over the world, no matter their roots, are constantly learning or are expected to learn and know English, why isn’t the same being expected of sign languages?
Ontario’s step to include ASL and LSQ (Langue des signes québécoise) in all the high schools is the first for Canada but I am truly hoping this is a flame that spreads far and wide all throughout the country.