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Signing degree becomes available
This semester, Liberty University became the first school in Virginia to offer a Bachelor of Arts in American Sign Language and Interpreting (ASLI).
Although the first ASLI class was taught in spring of 2012, the degree was yet to be accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Nicole Thorn, assistant professor of ASLI, said. However, the accreditation was received last spring, and now all students who major in ASLI will graduate under an accredited program.
“This achievement means that we are the first in the state, but moreover, I am excited because it was done at Liberty, which is a Christian university,” Thorn said. “Interpreting is a pretty young profession … The very first interpreting class was taught at a Bible school. But since then … it has become a very secular field. So, to be able to offer this major from a Christian worldview is very exciting.”
According to Thorn, this achievement makes Liberty the 40th university in the country to offer this degree. Thorn said the process of bringing this degree to life began as early as 2009.
“There have been many hands in this, and not always the hands that one would expect,” Thorn said. “But, the biggest set of hands that have been involved have definitely been the Lord’s. Clearly, there are things that should not have been able to happen, there are people who should not have been able to be involved … It was definitely well orchestrated by the Lord.”
According to Thorn, the interpreting field is rapidly growing for a variety of reasons. One of which is the American Disabilities Act from 1990, which declares accessibility for all people. Just as a wheelchair ramp is available for people in wheelchairs, Thorn said, interpreters must be available for a deaf person.
“Even though the Americans Disabilities Act came out in 1990, as with any kind of bill or any kind of law, it doesn’t come into full swing until a good many years down the road,” Thorn said. “It’s in full swing now. There are deaf people out there who are saying, ‘Hey, I need an interpreter,’ and they just don’t have them. There is a nationwide shortage.”
In order to meet the deficit of sign language interpreters in the community, Liberty recently established Liberty University Interpreting Service (LUIS). According to Thorn, this service provides interpreters to the community and will later provide a unique opportunity for ASLI students to do their practicum and internship work.
Hannah Silver, a junior and ASLI major, realized her love for ASL while watching the interpreter signing to the worship songs in Convocation.
“I saw that, and I thought, ‘That is really cool,’” Silver said. “It was like a new way to worship, which I thought was really awesome.”
Silver said one of the things that drew her to the major was the complexity of it.
“Even people within the same town, their signing style is different,” Silver said. “If they are a quiet personality, they may sign differently than someone who is really outspoken…They have different attitudes, they have different accents … and it’s just incredible to be able to see that and be able to understand the different types.”
The university, which, according to Thorn, has both hearing and deaf professors, is currently receiving national attention for this achievement.
“This is a really unique school anyway, but us having this major shows that we care,” Silver said. “So often, we don’t really think about it … because we have earbuds in all the time, we are listening to music here and there, we are watching TV … but so many things do not apply to deaf people. The lengths that Liberty goes through to provide interpreters for any student that needs it … and the fact that Liberty is willing to create a way to reach out to the deaf people and to train up people that care is incredible.”