ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library | Volume 1, Issue 20, March 2005 | William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor


Hello ASL Heroes! Good to be with you again!
Welcome to this months collection of fascinating questions from ASL students and teachers around the globe.

In a message dated 1/27/2005 11:27:15 AM Pacific Standard Time, a student writes:
Dr. Vicars,

This question actually concerns my mother. She has been unofficially speaking sign language as a nurse for 25 years and has
wanted for some time to become certified and possibly a professional interpreter. Unfortunately, recent health problems left the top left side of her lip paralyzed. Are people able to communicate effectively and professionally in sign language without being able to mouth the words they sign?

Thank you for your time, I will be enrolling soon and look very forward to
meeting you.

--Montana H________
It is a fact that ASL does use mouth morphemes.  Mouth morphemes are movements of the mouth that convey meaning.  This is not the same as mouthing English words.  Rather, we use a mouth morpheme to modify a sign.  For example, while signing thin we purse our lips to indicate thinness.  When signing "large" we mouth the sound "cha" to indicate something very large.
Will this affect your mothers ability to effectively interpret?  Yes, to some degree. 
The question is whether it will impact the interpreting enough to be distracting to the Deaf client.
The answer to that is:  It depends on the client.
You will get conflicting opinions.
I don't know your mother or the true extent of her disability.  Since she has been signing for so many years, she has obviously signed with many Deaf people.  My suggestion is that your mom should look inside herself and based on her own experience with Deaf people ask, "Would it matter?"
She might also want to contact one of the interpreting agencies in the area (do a google search for the city and "interpreting services") and ask the hiring director for a "pre-interview" discussion about her qualifications and future possibilities for working in the field.
Dr. Vicars
In a message dated 2/27/2005 9:32:21 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Hello Mr. Vicars,
I emailed you some time ago after ordering your ASL l Unit I CD.  I am really enjoying it , using it along with the the other resources for my classes.  My question is one of a personal nature...just trying to decide the right path to take.  I am teaching an ASL course at my church.  Thanks to you and your website, i think i have shapedthe class where many thing s are discussed and covered.  The class is 3 hours in length and consists of 5 major components:  ASL Grammar, Deaf History, Deaf Culture, Fingerspelling and Vocabulary/Activities.  
The course is for ten weeks and those that take it know the class is not a "ceramics" class although we do have fun!
What 's the question?  Exactly this -  Do i continue teaching this class or any others and not be certified?  I am preparing for certification, but it's a process, and I feel i would like to offer other classes outside ofthe church especially when i'm not working over the summer.  i am a memeber of my state ASLTA and will become a member of the natinal ASLTA soon.  I attend workshops and seminars given by ASLTA and the county college to keep my skills up to par (and use your website too).  I am in contact with people who are deaf on a daily basis (they are my  2nd family).  Is is as important as i make it to be certified?  I think others may not take the class as seriously as if i were, and charging for the course may be a point of concern for others if i am not certified.  if you say go ahead, how do I address this issue if it should arise?  (I am hearing)
Rene Brown
P.S.  Wow!  I read your Bio!  I thought I liked school!  You got me beat Man! 
I'd be willing to bet that as of this writing (2005) the vast majority of ASL teachers out there are not "certified" in ASL.   I teach at "Sac State" (California State University, Sacramento).  Here we have a dozen or so teachers of ASL (mostly part timers).  Only a few of us are certified in ASL.  I think a couple of the hearing ASL teachers might have RID certification (but not "ASLTA" certification). 
I've been certified since back when ASLTA was called S.I.G.N. (Sign Instructors Guidance Network).  I applaud what they are doing but ASLTA seems to have gone through some growing pains and has a bit of a challenge regarding their membership records. For example I've held the Qualified Certification from them for years.  But recently they sent me a letter indicating I was provisional, heh.  Now I've got to send them a copy of my documentation and get that straightened out.  One of these days maybe I'll have to get around to going for my "professional level."   But why?  I won't get a raise.  I don't need any more letters or titles behind my name. My wife and kids won't love me more if I do.
But that is my situation, not yours.
I remember years ago before I had all the degrees, and the college position, and the website.  I started teaching ASL classes on Saturdays at my church. (I was in the same boat as you!) I was wondering "how can I increase my business and seem more professional?"  I made it my passion to grow my ASL business. Within a few years I was teaching more than I could manage on my own.  I hired my wife.  Then I started subcontracting out work to other teachers.  If you're interested in more information, I describe all of that in great detail in my e-report "How to Make a Decent Living Teaching ASL" available via my website bookstore (for a measly ten bucks).
You asked whether you should continue teaching the church class or any others and not be certified. 
My response:  Yes. Continue teaching.  Also continue progressing toward certification while you are teaching.  Certification is becoming more prevalent.  [See my email to Lori, below]
You state that you feel you would like to offer other classes outside of the church--especially when you are not working over the summer.
My response: Go for it.
Seems to me you are on the right track.  You have started small.  You indicate that people who are deaf are your "second family." You have been attending classes and workshops."
You won't be able to satisfy everyone.  There will be naysayers and people who criticize.  Listen to what they have to say, but only long enough to determine if there is any merit to their comments.  Usually there isn't.  Then go ahead and succeed at something you enjoy doing.
Dr. Vicars (Bill)
In a message dated 2/25/2005 11:45:46 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Dear Dr. Vicars,

I am interested in learning more about the ASL program. I already have a California Teaching Credential.  My question is…what do I need to teach ASL in public schools in California?   Do I just need the certificate or an actual ASL credential?

I recently saw a job advertisement for a school district that needed a high school ASL teacher and it said the requirements were a valid California Teaching Credential, or willingness to get one.  I wasn’t sure if that meant they wanted you to get the teaching credential on top of having ASL credentials, or vice versa.  Of course when I called the district office to get information, like everywhere else I’ve tried, I never am able to speak to an actual person.  I would really appreciate it if you could help me with this information.  I would really like to pursue this as a career, but am not sure exactly what is needed to teach in public schools.  Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon!


Lori Halvorsen

In February of 2004, the California Commission of Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) established a new Single Subject Credential in Languages other than English in American Sign Language. Prior to that there was no approved subject-matter examination for a Single Subject Teaching Credential in ASL.  Commission staff, in conjunction with an expert panel of ASL educators and National Evaluation Systems (NES), is currently in the process of developing the subject-specific content knowledge requirements for beginning teachers for this new credential, the subject matter, program standards, and the examination. This new examination is scheduled to begin this Fall, (2005).
Which means, right now, today, (2/25/05) to teach ASL in California public schools you need to pass the CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) and be able to demonstrate "subject-matter competence" in ASL to the hiring authority.  One way to verify subject-matter competence in ASL would be to contact the teacher education department at a California college or university approved by the CCTC and request an evaluation of your transcripts. After the evaluation of your transcripts you would receive a signed subject-matter equivalency letter or a list of classes to be completed before the equivalency letter could be issued.  Depending on your prior coursework you may need to take a U.S. Constitution course (or take a test offered by the community colleges), pass the RICA: Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, and also fulfill CLAD: Cross-cultural, Language, and Academic Development.  Go to the California Commission of Teacher Credentialing website at to find information fitting your specific situation.

In a message dated 1/19/2005 7:15:31 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
A funny thing happened to me and I thought you'd appreciate it. I educate my children at home and I was reviewing Spanish vocabulary for my first grader in my preparations for the next day's lesson. As I went down the list I found myself signing the words in my head to help me remember the Spanish word. This surprised me because I am not really fluent. I have learned many signed words and I thought it was really funny that my subconscious went to ASL and not English or a mental picture. I love to sign even though I am hearing and plan to become an interpreter at some point when my life affords me a little more time to concentrate on my own studies.
Thank you again.
God Bless,
Anna-Marie Hawthorne
That is fascinating that your mind would associate a "target" language with visually-based "target" language rather than your native spoken language.
That sounds like a good topic for a research paper.  The obvious first "reason" would be that to associate the new information with English you would have to process the sound of the Spanish word and the sound of the English word consecutively (one after the other).  Instead you can recall the sound of the Spanish word while concurently (at the same time) recalling the sight and feel of the ASL concept.
Dr. Vicars

To a person who asked about reverence in church meetings:

Let me first state that I agree reverence in worship is important.

What constitutes reverence however varies from culture to culture.
I'm sure you would find Southern Black Worship ceremonies or Torajan Funeral Ceremonies to be "very" irreverent. On the other hand the people of those cultures find deep satisfaction and spiritual meaning in their ceremonies.  They would view a traditional white Anglo-Saxon Protestant or Catholic ceremony as boring or outright distressing.  This is because of cultural differences.  The norms, mores, and customs of a people extend into their culture.
As you know, one of the stronger norms for deaf people is to travel from afar to gather together and chat. This is culturally ingrained behavior.  As a hearing person, you can pretty much chat with anyone you'd like, but the Deaf get chat time only when they make a special trip to be together with others of their own kind.  It is an expectation.
Now, you can say, "Well we are going to change that expectation!"
Or you can say, "Hmmm, how can we consider Deaf Culture and come up with an environment that works well for the Deaf that they are proud of and want to be part of."
The fact is my wife and I attend a deaf church to be in a deaf environment, not to be in an interpreted environment.  We could get that at our local church...which is within walking distance and would save me having to buy a new car.   I don't drive all the way to the deaf church so I can sit in a hearing worship meeting with an interpreter.  I could get that already and save gas.
I think it is important for hearing leaders that have influence on deaf churches to consider what differences might exist between "reverent Hearing worship" and "reverent Deaf worship" as you prepare your lesson on reverence.
Bro Bill

ADA and Language Testing

Note: The following is not to be considered legal advice. Consult your attorney regarding legal matters. Even though this situation is based on a true story, individuals in the following discussion are fictional.  Certain details have been modified to protect their privacy.

Recently a student requested time-and-a-half for all of the quizzes in one of my classes.
I explained to him that I might consider having him do some alternate form of testing but that I thought it would be good to have him take the first quiz (out of 27 total tests) and see how he did. Then if he wasn't getting a passing grade we could possibly use a set of video CD tests that I use with my distance education students.
The next day he again indicated that he would be expecting extended time.

I replied in an email:

Dear _________.,

Since it looks like you are asking for an accommodation, we need to look at what constitutes a reasonable accommodation for your disability.

As I'm sure you are aware, there are a number of laws and accepted guidelines for the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For example.  Suppose a deaf person were to go to a bar with his  friends he might find it difficult to see their signing.  Even though the bar qualifies as a public accommodation it would be unreasonable to ask the bar owner to turn up the lights in his bar because this would fundamentally change the nature of the establishment (it would impact the other patrons negatively).
This has been born out in the courts already.

So, then let's examine your situation.

It appears you are asking for "extended time."

Extended time for what?

Are you asking me to slow down my signing while giving tests?
Are you asking for more time to write your answers?

In real life a conversation with another individual they will be signing to you at about one sign per .3 seconds (or faster).  In the classroom this will be much slower, perhaps one sign per one or two seconds.  To comprehend a sentence means you will need to be able to understand signs at a reasonable pace.

It would be unreasonable to require an extension of time between signs because this would fundamentally change the nature of the activity and it would impact the other students in class.

All of the exams in my class involve signing at a reasonable pace and then writing down in English or gloss what was signed. 

I give 27 tests in that class. Each test takes about 15 minutes.  Two of the tests take 30 minutes. so we are talking about 15 hours of normal testing time.  Which is to say, literally 1/3 of my classroom time is testing.  Now...if you request additional time between questions to write down your answers due to a cognitive processing deficiency (rather than a physical impairment of writing ability) that would indicate that you are essentially unable to develop the skill of processing signed language at a rate which would allow you to have a signed conversation.  No to mention that increasing the amount of time between questions by 30 seconds would change over 270 minutes of class time from teaching time to time spent by the other 25  student waiting for you to process the answers. 

As far as ADA goes and accommodation:  Extending the time for 27 math tests is reasonable.  Such tests are asynchronous.  By this I mean the time requirement is not tied to the other students and the teacher.  Time is also, for the most part, irrelevant in math tests. Because in real life, taking longer to do math doesn't affect the outcome.  You can normally take a long time to do a math problem and the answer is still the same.  The fact that it took you three times longer than the next student has no bearing on the correctness of your answer. And it has no bearing on the other student because he finished and left 40 minutes ago.  But to make 25 other students wait 40 additional minutes (or 270 minutes) would be unreasonable.

Do you have a disability that prevents you from writing a sentence in a reasonable amount of time?  My daughter has no knuckles and would thus need more time to write or type. If your fingers work well enough to learn ASL, I imagine that "dexterity" is not an issue.

My understanding from your paper is that you have a short term memory loss.

Such being the case, a reasonable accommodation for short term memory loss would consist of "not testing you within a short term" of having covered new material.  The accommodation would be to allow you sufficient time between instruction and testing to practice and process the new information.

The question then becomes what is a reasonable amount of time for someone with a short term memory loss to study sufficiently in order to recognize it the next time they see it.

An average student can study sufficiently by having 2 hours of study time per 1 hour of class.  (Actually I believe that is grossly overstated and that a student could do very well on even a half hour of study per hour in class). Suppose we said you need an extension of three times the study time of a normal student.

That would, at most, be 6 hours of study between learning and testing.

Since our class meets every other day, this amount of time is already being provided to you.

My suggestion is for you to take the first quiz and then we can look at how you do.

If you feel you did not do as well as you'd like, then bring to me a record of your time spent studying, (indicating which hours and how many hours you invested studying) and we will analyze your situation again to determine what accommodation best fits your needs.  For example, the reasonable accommodation might be for you to spend more time studying in-between classes. Or if you need more time to learn and process the information it might be reasonable to assign you an "I" at the end of the semester so you can re-sit the class until you are able to appropriately produce and recognize ASL.


He didn't like this idea and still wanted "extended" time for the tests and took the matter back to his advisor at the Students with Disabilities office.

He returned with a letter from that office indicating his status as a disabled individual and his "right" to accommodation.

I went ahead and contacted the advisor.  I had a protracted conversation with him and it looks like the student will be using the special set of video CDs (that I developed for the distance education version of my course) for testing and this solution will probably be satisfactory to everyone.

I do want to discuss something that the student wrote to me though. 
He said, "... because as it was explained to me yesterday at [the Disabled Students Office] I was entitled to extended time and that it was my option whether or not I wanted to take the first quiz without the extended time. "

The notion that a disabled student is automatically "entitled" to a particular testing accommodation causes me to raise an eyebrow because according to my understanding and research, whether or not an accommodation must be made depends on a number of factors.

Two of the main factors considered by the courts are:

1. "Fundamental alteration."  Does the requested accommodation fundamentally alter the nature of the testing?  If so, the instructor is not required to make the modification.  (See section III-4.2100, pasted below for your convenience). 

If you'll read Section III-4.6100 of the ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual, you'll see that it states:  "A private entity offering an examination covered by this section is responsible for selecting and administering the examination in a place and manner that ensures that the examination accurately reflects an individual's aptitude or achievement level or other factor the examination purports to measure, rather than reflecting the individual's impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (except where those skills are the factors that the examination purports to measure)."

Notice the information in parenthetical expression?  A student may not ask to be excepted from the aptitude or skill that the test is designed to measure.  Deaf people sign and fingerspell at a certain pace. A "receptive ASL fluency" test is designed to determine if a student can recognize and process the meaning of a series of signs at a certain pace.  To slow that pace down (i.e., provide time and a half for a student to "figure out" what a sentence means)--would fundamentally alter the nature of the test.

2.  "Undue burden."  Does the requested accommodation cause an undue burden? An instructor is not required to provide auxiliary aids and services if an undue burden or a fundamental alteration would result. (See section III-4.3100, pasted below for your convenience).  One student requiring an instructor devote after-class time to administer twenty-seven (27) one-on-one performance tests at one-and-a-half extended time (that are normally given in-class) could arguably present an undue burden. It would be different if these were written tests that the student could take at a writing center, and that could be corrected by a scantron, but these are not.  The tests we are referring to are receptive and expressive ASL. These tests would require 100 percent of the instructors attention and participation (either receptive or expressive) for the full amount of time. 

III-4.2100 General. A public accommodation must reasonably modify its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination. If the public accommodation can demonstrate, however, that a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations it provides, it is not required to make the modification.

III-4.3100 General. A public accommodation is required to provide auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to ensure equal access to the goods, services, facilities, privileges, or accommodations that it offers, unless an undue burden or a fundamental alteration would result.

Here is a sample illustration paraphrased from the technical guide, "Suppose Steve who is blind, visits an electronics store to purchase a clock radio and wishes to inspect the merchandise information cards next to the floor models in order to decide which one to buy. Reading the model information to Steve should be adequate to ensure effective communication. If Steve is unreasonably demanding or is shopping when the store is extremely busy, it may be an undue burden to spend extended periods of time reading price and product information."


Note, I was extremely tempted to say, "no" to the student's request for an accommodation and embrace the ramifications.  And I might just do so in the future if this happens again. 


Please bear in mind as I present the assertions below that my foremost consideration is for providing a good learning experience for my students.  I have already, at my initiative, provided the student a separate set of testing materials and have made other arrangements to provide for the student's needs. I am pro-student.
With that in mind...
What I'm asserting is that a student is NOT entitled to an accommodation that results in the fundamental alteration of a main factor in a test of speaking skills
I believe this is very clear in the ADA guidelines.  To ask for "more processing time" on a test of speaking or listening fluency fundamentally alters that test.
As I'm sure you know, a student is not entitled to an unreasonable accommodation.  It is my assertion that one student requesting a specific accommodation that requires an additional 33% workload for a faculty member is unreasonable. Which is to say, if an instructor normally spends 45 hours teaching a class and is requested to spend 60 hours teaching that same class--that is unreasonable.
I do understand it is good to resolve such matters with the [Students with Disabilities] Office. (Which I did and I am happy to be flexible and find workable solutions.)  In addition to being a nice way to go through life, "discussing things and finding workable solutions" is a way to say "settle out of court."
Now, here's my point:
Suppose the instructor decided to not change the nature of his test, and the student "demanded" time-and-a-half on "27 instructor-administered receptive-language-fluency tests," and it were to go to court--it is my assertion that the instructor would win
I realize this isn't the goal.  I realize we don't want court cases. We want "win/win" relationships.
I'm pursuing this though because it is an ongoing issue that will not go away:  Extended time testing gives an advantage to accommodated students that leads to overprediction of future performance. (Documentation available.) 
This whole topic is only an issue because words like "reasonable" and "undue" are open to interpretation. 
The only interpretation with teeth is that which is provided by the courts.
To that end I've been looking for court cases addressing the issue of "reasonable accommodation and language proficiency testing." 
If you happen to know of any existing court cases covering this specific issue, please do forward them my way.
Bill Vicars

In a message dated 2/1/2005 9:15:39 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dr. Vicars,
Love your site.  My daughters have taken up signing and my boys are
following them.  Interestingly, my daughters are 5 and 2, and my boys
are 10 and 8!!!  Yes, the 5 year old loves ASL and is "teaching" her
siblings.  The 2 year old is signing many things...and she isn't even
talking yet.  We wish we had known about this with the others...none of
my kids ever "really" spoke until 3!!!

Anyway, I am going through your tour and noticed a broken, or "weird"
link.  When I click on NEXT on the page showing the sign for SINGLE, I
keep being brought back to SINGLE.  I had to return to the TOUR page and
click on DIVORCED. 

Again, that's as far as I've gotten...I love your course and want to
make sure others don't have problems.

Hey Mike!
Thanks for letting me know about that broken link.
I appreciate it.
I've fixed it now.
Take care,

In a message dated 1/30/2005 10:09:44 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Hello Bill,
Thank you for sharing the students' and teachers' comments and questions.  It is interesting to
see their perspective. 
I have been teaching ASL since 1960.  At that time there were almost no resources, so I adopted the book called $5 a day in France.  I just followed the format of the book.  It was a challenging experience that time.
I would like to make an announcement about 2 incoming ASL weekends, one in downtown Sacramento in early May and the other in Occidental in early June.  Is it possible to make such announcement in your website?
Joanne Jauregui, ASL instructor, Ohlone College, Fremont


In a message dated 3/30/2005 2:59:37 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dear Dr. William Vicars
My Name is Michael Nsofwa I was Born in Zambia - Africa.
In 1985 I lost my my left leg in a road traffic  accident, in 1990 I was enrolled to study electronics at NVRC which is  a college for disabled people and at that I interacted with a lot of deaf people almost all my best collage mates were Deaf people.
In 1999 I was offered a place to study for a degree course (BSc in I.T) at the University of Portsmouth here in England. I have now graduated from the University and I am working as an IT administrator but I still want to change my career to a Sign Language Tutor or Interpreter now my big challenge is that if  I study BSL (british sign language) here in the UK would it be possible for me to come switch to ASL (american sign language) without much difficulties if I choose to come and teach Sign Language in America or is it possible to Study both the ASL & BSL at the same time. Please I really need your advise.
Thank you for your time.
If you study BSL and then later move to America you will need to retrain yourself to the ASL signs.  It will be like learning to snowboard in the mountains and then switching to "surfboarding" in the ocean.  The skills you develop for snowboarding are, to some degree, transferable.  But on the other hand, your old snowboarding habits and assumptions will also cause you to swallow quite a bit of water as you attempt to "ride the waves."
Similarly, the skills you develop while learning BSL are also transferable (visual attentiveness, manual dexterity, etc.).
There are considerable differences between the two languages and you may find yourself mixing the two unintentionally.  The more you immerse yourself in the second language the faster you will make the switch.
On a positive note, I have a several friends (Deaf) who are able to switch between BSL and ASL seemingly without effort--just as a skilled speaker of both English and Spanish can switch between spoken languages.
So take heart, it can be done.
Dr. Bill



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