ASL program: current activities and future plans

Submitted by Joyce Parvi on

Did you know that UW now offers American Sign Language through the third year every year?  That’s not bad for a program that didn’t even exist at UW until 2007!  The classes are popular, with a long waiting list every quarter for first-year ASL. The faculty (Lance Forshay, Kristi Winter and Dan Mathis) now teach ASL in-person MWF and remotely TuTh, and although the remote method was forced on them during the pandemic, they find that this hybrid approach actually provides the most flexibility for their students.  One aid to teaching ASL this way has been the incorporation of a series of Signing Naturally videos in Canvas, level-appropriate workbook-type activities that students can do anywhere.  The days of having to deal with scratched DVDs are happily in the past.

Program director Lance Forshay also teaches ASL 305 (Introduction to American Deaf Culture) once a year, another popular class which satisfies two GE requirements for UW students:  Diversity, and Individuals and Societies.  In Spring 2022 74 students from over 25 different majors (including undeclared) are registered for it.  In addition to Deaf culture, topics covered include history, education, sociology, language, legal issues, art and literature, sensory variety and politics, audism, assistive technological devices, Deafhood, Deaf Blind, Deaf identity and intersections of diversity within the Deaf community, and other special topics analyzed from the Deaf culture worldview.

The ASL faculty are constantly looking for ways to enhance the language learning experiences of their students.  In Spring 2022 Kristi Winter’s ASL 203 students are participating in an online language exchange program with Universität Hamburg students of Prof. Annika Herrmann, who leads the Institut für Deutsche Gebärdensprache und Kommunikation Gehörloser (the Institute of German Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf) there. For years, Hamburg has been a leading institution for research on DGS (German Sign Language) and sign language in general (for example, HamNoSys, a widely used transcription system for sign languages, was developed there).  Winter’s students are learning some German Sign Language and Herrmann’s students are learning some American Sign Language.

One long-term goal of the ASL program is to offer a BA in ASL at UW, which would be unique in Washington state. Although Central Washington University offers a BA in Deaf and Sign Language studies, currently, the nearest university—public or private--which offers a BA in ASL is Western Oregon University, near Salem.