Letter to Carleton University: ASL instructor
To Pauline Rankin, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and members of the Carleton University community:
We, the undersigned, are writing to express our profound disappointment that Carleton University has recently hired a nondeaf individual for a full-time, confirmation-track Instructor I position in American Sign Language (ASL). We note the practice of hiring nondeaf individuals to teach ASL classes has a long history at Carleton and is in fact advertised on the School of Linguistics and Language Studies' web page. As Octavian Robinson and Jon Henner note in their recent Disability Studies Quarterly article, this issue is deeply connected to “larger notions of disability justice and social justice.”
Carleton University provides ASL classes for over one thousand students, and numbers of ASL students are greater than numbers of students enrolled in other modern language courses at Carleton. As such, the university financially profits more from ASL classes than from any other modern language. This creates an exploitative relationship between the university and signing deaf communities as the communities of origin of ASL and other signed languages. This relationship is exploitative since there are now more nondeaf than deaf individuals employed in full-time, permanent instructor and program coordinator positions at Carleton. It is also exploitative since the university is silent on the matter of deaf children and their families in Ottawa-Gatineau having few opportunities to learn ASL in early childhood, and no quality ASL-medium education is provided in this region.
Furthermore, the practice of nondeaf instructors teaching nondeaf students ASL as a second language results in poor outcomes for language learning that directly impact the well-being of deaf communities. As a second language in a different modality, ASL requires more years of study than spoken languages, and immersion in the target language is not provided when there is limited exposure to deaf communities. Carleton University rejects the use of ASL curricula that have been developed by and with deaf ASL communities and that require training by deaf community organizations, even though development of ASL instructor training by deaf communities has been vital to deaf community development and empowerment. Furthermore, hearing instructors at Carleton are observed to support the use of simultaneous speaking and signing, which is detrimental to ASL acquisition by second-language, second-modality learners and is largely inaccessible to deaf people.
Applicants for ASL instructor positions at Carleton are not required to achieve a minimum score on the American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI) as a standardized measure of ASL proficiency. Thus, it is dangerous for Carleton to offer a “certificate” in ASL. Since Carleton has more ASL students than any other Canadian postsecondary institution, Canadian sign language interpreter training programs are faced with an influx of applicants who lack advanced receptive and expressive ASL proficiency as well as cultural competencies. ASL learners who do not develop advanced proficiency become unskilled interpreters who directly impact deaf people’s access to employment, healthcare and other public services.
It is not the responsibility of deaf ASL communities to provide instructors for Carleton’s ASL classes or to maximize the university’s profits. This is especially true since there are no university programs in Canada for deaf students to study ASL teaching, and deaf people face significant barriers to postsecondary education. If no suitable deaf applicants are available, course offerings should be restricted. Limiting the teaching of ASL courses to qualified deaf instructors and streamlining the ASL program at Carleton will render the program more proportionate to the deaf ASL community in Ottawa-Gatineau.
We urge Carleton University to commission an external program review by qualified experts, such as faculty members from Gallaudet University’s Department of ASL and Deaf Studies, and engage in consultation with the Sign Language Institute of Canada (under the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf) regarding program restructuring, curriculum design, assessment, policies, and oversight, including the establishment of a program advisory committee.
Vincent Chauvet, President, Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf
Joanne Cripps, Executive Director, Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf
Wayne Nicholson, Sign Language Institute of Canada Advisory Team
Leah Riddell, SignABLE Vi5ion
Debra Russell, President, World Association of Sign Language Interpreters
Kristin Snoddon, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Erika Stebbings, ASL Instructor
Norma-Jean Taylor, Teacher of the Deaf
Erin Wilkinson, Associate Professor, University of New Mexico