Ontario high schools can offer sign language classes in September

·2 min read

TORONTO — Ontario high schools will have the option to offer classes teaching sign language as a second language starting in September, the province's education minister announced Thursday.

The province will become the first to offer a curriculum for Langue des signes quebecoise (LSQ) and one of the first to teach American Sign Language (ASL), Stephen Lecce told reporters.

"To ensure accuracy of the languages and to include authentic ASL and LSQ perspectives, we consulted with the ASL and LSQ communities and stakeholders about the course content," he said, noting that the two are distinct languages with their own grammar, syntax and cultural references.

"We could not have created and offer this curriculum without their involvement and their expertise."

He said the province is "encouraging all boards" to introduce the courses.

Wanda Blackett of Silent Voice Canada, a charity that offers services in ASL for members of the deaf community, said that while there are some ASL and LSQ teachers available right now, it may take some time for the courses to be made available provincewide.

"In terms of the availability of proficient teachers who could teach at all of the school boards ... we're not there yet," said Blackett, who was involved in the announcement. "It's important to recognize that some capacity does have to be built over time."

But she said introducing the curriculums is an important first step.

"The fact that they'll be available has tremendous impact on our community," she said.

"ASL and LSQ has traditionally been looked down upon. But this initiative will show that these languages are equivalent to spoken language."

Frank Smith, national co-ordinator for the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), which offers support to post-secondary students with disabilities, agreed that introducing the courses is a "great idea."

"The goal should always be to increase the number of Canadians that communicate in sign languages for greater equity in society," he said.

He added that sign languages -- including ASL and LSQ, as well as Indigenous sign languages -- should be recognized as official languages in Canada.

"If Ontario and other provinces make sign language a part of curricula, then more people in society, including those who aren't deaf and whose first language is English or French, will be able to communicate with deaf Canadians," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2021.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press