Hearing-impaired teen inspires Virginia sign language bill
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia high school students will be able to count American Sign Language as a foreign language credit beginning this fall under a bill that won approval from the General Assembly earlier this week.
House Bill 84, introduced by Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, unanimously passed the Senate on Monday, Feb. 26. Now, it will go to Gov. Ralph Northam to be officially signed into law for the state.
Teenager Emma Chupp, who was selected to work as a Senate page — or legislator’s helper — this General Assembly session, suggested the idea for the bill. Chupp said she is enrolled in a high school Spanish class but finds the language challenging to learn because she is hard of hearing.
“I have had hearing aids since I was 8 years old,” Chupp said. “I’ve always wanted to learn American Sign Language, but never really had the time to do so.”
Chupp attends Cornerstone Christian School, near her home in the Shenandoah Valley town of Broadway. She said her civics class has been following the bill.
“They were really excited when they found out I came up with the idea,” Chupp said. “They just loved watching the bill because it got them as involved with it as I am.”
Chupp said she hopes students will take advantage of the opportunity to take sign language courses.
“When I found out it passed the Senate, I was really excited because it let me know that I can do something in my community to break down the barriers between the deaf and hearing communities,” Chupp said.
HB 84 unanimously passed the House on Feb. 6. It was amended to allow students at schools that currently do not offer American Sign Language courses to take the course at a local community college or from a “multidivision online provider.” Those providers offer online and virtual classes in kindergarten through high school and are approved by the Virginia Board of Education.
Bell said Virginia has 20 such programs, each with certified teachers who are reviewed annually.
In 2011, Bell also sponsored legislation requiring colleges and universities to accept high school American Sign Language classes as part of their entrance requirements. Bell said the University of Virginia was one of the first colleges to do so and to offer its own American Sign Language course.
The Associated Press and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service contributed to this story.