Educators highlight need for deaf instructors, ASL interpreters

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students — and students who want to learn American Sign Language — has come a long way in the last few decades, but instructors and administrators think we have still have a long way to go.

In 1986, about 1% of high schools in the country offered ASL classes as a foreign language credit. An effort in the 1990s and early 2000s to create academic guidelines for ASL, using deaf instructors and ASL-trained teachers, has made a huge difference.

As Mark Thomas, the principal of Northview High School, explained, ASL is now the second most popular foreign language among students in his district.

There are more than 225 students in Kent County who are deaf and/or hard of hearing, according to Paul Dymowski, director of center programs and services for Kent Intermediate School District. Northview High School serves a diverse cohort of deaf students, and it’s also a hub for Kent ISD’s Total Communication Program.

According to Dymowski, Kent ISD offers two main programs: the Total Communication Program, which focuses on ASL, and the Oral Deaf Program, which focuses on listening and language skills.

Thomas acknowledged the value of these courses but told News 8 of the formidable challenge of securing qualified instructors. He described it as akin to “finding a doctor or a nurse in a certain specific type of medicine.”

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