Technology Replacing the Need for American Sign Language Instruction

July 27th, 2011

I really have no opinions about the merits of American Sign Language (I vaguely recall memorizing the ASL alphabet in High School), but it is interesting to note the tensions between people with hearing disabilities who prefer addressing the problem by teaching ASL, and those who wish to address the problem through new technologies, like a cochlear implant. The Times has decent profile:

Will sign language and the nation’s separate schools for the deaf be abandoned as more of the deaf turn to communicating, with help from fast-evolving technology, through amplified sounds and speech? . . .

Some advocates for the schools now worry that financial concerns could push the debate toward sending deaf children to “mainstream” schools, which would, in the eyes of some, ultimately encourage methods of communication other than American Sign Language, or A.S.L. . . .

“We view this as inflicting violence upon thousands of innocent deaf and hard-of-hearing babies — taking away their language and pinning their hopes on dismal success rates of cochlear implants,” he added.

The two approaches — sign language and the so-called listening and spoken language approach — are both in wide use. Many people do not see them in conflict with one another, and view the two approaches simply as a matter of personal choice.  But shrinking state budgets, with less money to be spent on programs for the deaf, are hardening the debate because they are turning preferences into policy decisions.

Advocates for those who use technology to hear and speak say their option can be one answer to the budget constraints.