The predominant language of Deaf communities in North America is getting more attention at the University of Wyoming, where students will now be able to earn a certificate in American Sign Language.
On Thursday, the university's Board of Trustees approved a new academic program to train future educators - and anyone else living or working with members of the Deaf community - in the signing language used by up to 500,000 people mainly in the United States and Canada.
ASL is its own distinct language with unique grammar and rules, setting it apart from some other sign languages - such as signed exact English - that simply provide a word-for-word counterpart for an existing language.
Mark Guiberson is the director of the university's Division of Communication Disorders. He said American Sign Language classes have been offered at the University of Wyoming since the late 1970s.
"It's a critical part of our undergraduate curriculum for students who will pursue careers in speech language pathology or audiology," Guiberson said. "But what we found is that a lot of other students learn about communication and about disability and difference through the class."
He added UW will begin offering a beginner ASL course online next summer, opening up the program to Wyomingites outside of Laramie.
"There are paraeducators or teachers or others across the state who would like to learn sign language but the difficulty of getting to Laramie to take a class or getting to any other site where they might be able to take the class is prohibitive," Guiberson said.
The 16-credit certificate requires students to complete three ASL courses, a Deaf studies course, and an undergraduate teaching assistantship. The new program draws on existing resources and does not require any additional faculty.
Students could begin earning the certificate as early as this academic year.
The certificate's approval comes two years after UW axed several academic programs, including a bachelor's in Russian and master's degrees in French and German.