ASL bill crafted by MC students passed by 110th General Assembly

*UPDATE: ASL Bill SB 524/HB 462 passed the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously on April 24, 2017

Bill crafted by MC students under consideration by 110th General Assembly

 Feb. 23, 2017

A bill written by two Maryville College students as part of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature’s (TISL) General Assembly in November is now being considered by legislators in the 110th General Assembly.

Molly Ridgeway ’18, TISL education lobbyist, and Joshua Anderson ’18, TISL senator, wrote a bill advocating for the Tennessee State Board of Education to implement American Sign Language (ASL) textbooks and curriculum and allow this course to satisfy foreign language requirements in Tennessee schools.

“The bill was proposed at the General Assembly of TISL, passed overwhelmingly in both the Senate and House of Representatives and was subsequently signed by the TISL Governor,” Anderson said. “Following the General Assembly, the Executive Council of TISL ranked our bill as one of the top 10 bills of the session and flagged it as priority legislation that should be forwarded to the actual Tennessee State Legislature.”

First convened in 1966, TISL is a forum for student leaders “to exchange ideas, express their opinions and learn how government works,” according to the organization’s website. In four days, the TISL General Assembly experiences things that normally occur in the state Legislature during its regular session of four months: create and pass bills, lobby for important causes, argue cases in front of the Tennessee Intercollegiate Supreme Court and report on all of it, just as the media would.

MC students participating as lobbyists and legislators this year were required to write at least one bill and were encouraged to be vocal and visible while in Nashville.

Anderson said that he and Ridgeway are still working to ensure that the bill is successful in the upcoming legislative committee hearings.

“After discussion and meetings, Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) and Rep. Roger Kane (R-Knoxville) proposed the bill to the Tennessee General Assembly,” Anderson said.

Ridgeway said she felt “so excited” when she heard that Massey and Kane had agreed to sponsor the bill, filed as Senate Bill 524 and House Bill 462.

“We are currently reaching out to various legislators, legislative staffers and organizations seeking to build a coalition of supporters. The bill is expected to be heard in legislative committees in the next month,” Anderson said.

The two plan to attend the legislative committee hearings and testify in Nashville on March 1 in support of the bill.

TISL Bill Promotes Study of ASL

“Because I have a disability – I am nonverbal – I have a different perspective in which I can advocate for the people who do not have a voice,” Ridgeway said, adding that she is interested in teaching ASL in Tennessee schools.

“This bill will help future educators like me who are not able to communicate verbally to teach children and could increase the number of job opportunities in this field,” she said.

Anderson, too, explained the personal reasons for his interest in ASL.

“With a history of strong ties to the Deaf community in my family, and because of my relationship with Molly, I have a strong interest in advocating for people with disabilities – especially the Deaf,” Anderson said.

As a political science major, Anderson is the one who actually wrote the bill, Ridgeway said.

Once the students decided to use their TISL bill for ASL advocacy, they began researching the ways in which the language is currently implemented in Tennessee.  

“We found that there are some Tennessee schools that do offer ASL courses, but not very many. We searched for reasons for why so few schools offered ASL and found one key issue: the state Board of Education has not adopted any textbooks or curriculum to be used in these courses,” Anderson said.

The two said they feel their bill will benefit not only members of the Deaf community, but also students, teachers and businesses.

“Currently, a lot of businesses are not staffed with employees who know how to communicate with a Deaf person,” Ridgeway said.

Their hope is that the bill will increase ASL teaching materials in Tennessee schools and lead to an increase in Tennesseans capable of using the language.

Studying American Sign Language at MC

Maryville College developed the first bachelor’s degree program in interpreting for the languages of American Sign Language (ASL), spoken English and English-influenced forms of sign language in the United States. Faculty credentials include degrees in teaching interpreting, ASLTA professional certification, and National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf certification. Read more about MC’s majors in American Sign Language-English Interpreting and American Sign Language-Deaf Studies.

By  Allison Franklin ’18, Communications Assistant

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.