New funding opens sign language classes to beginning students

By Lisa Heller
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 19, 1996

Gregory Harris
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Michael Cox, communications senior, and Heather Copps, interdisciplinary studies junior, sign to their partners in sign language class. Beginning sign language classes, which count toward fulfillment of the general education foreign language requirement, are again being offered at the UA.


The UA will once again offer beginning sign language classes after a two-year hiatus because of a lack of funding.

American Sign Language classes were offered in the past at the University of Arizona, but always on a temporary basis, said Cindy Volk, professor in Special Education and Rehabilitation.

She said about two years ago, the beginning classes were cut because of a lack of funding in the special education and rehabilitation department.

Those students who started beginning sign language were allowed to continue to advanced classes, but no more students were allowed to enroll, Volk said.

After talking with department faculty, Volk and Sam Supalla, director of Sign Language and Deaf Studies, submitted a formal proposal last spring to Mike Cusanovich, vice president for research and graduate studies.

"The proposal allowed sign language and deaf studies to maintain the sign language program while planning for the future," Cusanovich said.

Sign language and deaf studies received $115,000 over two years, Volk said.

"The money was enough to permit the planning process without burning any bridges," Cusanovich said.

Volk said she is happy that students can once again enroll in sign language classes.

"There is a huge interest," she said.

"I have about 20 calls a day from students asking about sign language classes."

American Sign Language fulfills the general education foreign language requirement, Volk said. It is a four-credit class. The five spring sections are now full.

Volk said classes for the fall will expand to beginning and intermediate sign language, and next spring, advanced sign language will be added.

Najah Swartz, journalism junior, is in her fourth semester of sign language. She said she was born with a hearing loss in both ears, but because her family is not hearing impaired, she never learned sign language at home.

"I learned to read lips and take things in context," she said.

Swartz said it is important to keep sign language at the UA.

"It would be ridiculous to get rid of sign language," Swartz said. "If they did, people who get their special education degrees would have to fulfill their sign language requirement elsewhere."