A grass-roots effort calling on the U.S. government to formally recognize American Sign Language is poised to get an official response from the Obama administration.
More than 29,000 people from across the country signed a petition on the White House website this fall seeking to gain stature for the visual language. President Barack Obama’s administration has pledged to provide an official reply to any petition on the site that attracts at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days, a threshold that the sign language petition met earlier this month.
While some states allow schools to provide credit for sign language classes, recognition of the communication method remains limited, according to the petition. Sign language is not listed as an option on U.S. Census forms and some children who are deaf still struggle to access sign language education, supporters say.
“For more than a hundred years, American Sign Language (ASL) has been persecuted as a ‘lesser’ language. It is a homegrown and complete language that has survived efforts to wipe it out,” the petition says. “Yet today, ASL is still considered ‘foreign’ and not given the respect and protection it needs.”
Adrean Clark, who is deaf and started the petition, said that federal recognition would be one step toward alleviating the stigma often associated with sign language.
“We want to see awareness of American Sign Language spread and become a good, important part of our country,” she said in a statement on the website of a new group known as ASL for America. “I hope that President Obama and his administration will now begin the steps of formally recognizing American Sign Language — a true American language.”
White House officials say that any petition that receives enough signatures will be reviewed by the appropriate policy experts, but response times vary depending on the topic.