Sign of Love

Morgan Asbill grew up learning sign language. She began to communicate using Signing Exact English, or SEE, with her older brother Devin before she could even speak. Devin and Morgan’s father Ron, a current John Brown University student, is hearing impaired. And although Ron does not use sign language, Morgan’s family encouraged her to pursue it.

Like many states, Arkansas requires high school students to take a foreign language in order to graduate with honors. Currently a junior at Springdale High School, Morgan hopes to take a sign language course in place of another language such as Spanish. She also wants other students who are unable to fulfill a language requirement due to hearing impairment to get the opportunity to graduate with honors, an opportunity denied to Devin.

Knowing that the situation was unfair, Morgan decided to take action.

A little on the shy side, Morgan described how her friends reacted when she recently created an online petition to put American Sign Language in Arkansas high schools.

“A lot of my friends were surprised, but they thought it was neat,” she recalled.

She put the petition online for people to sign at in August. The website allows anyone to create a petition and will help promote the idea using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Morgan’s mother Jennifer said the petition accumulated around 770 signatures so far, with people from New York to California joining the cause.

While signatures are not required for a proposal such as this to go before the state legislature, Morgan’s effort and the number of signatures it produced caught the attention of Rep. Andy Mayberry.

Mayberry, who represents Arkansas District 27, and his wife, Judy, decided to sponsor the bill in October. They communicated with the Asbills via email and expect the official bill to go to vote this year.

When the time comes, Morgan will stand before the state legislature and explain why it is so important for schools to allow ASL as a foreign language credit. She will concentrate on remembering people like herself who may be able to speak, but still recognize the importance of being able to communicate with all people.

Both of Morgan’s parents are proud of her.

“We’ve just given Morgan the tools she’s needed to do it,” Ron explained.

At the University, Ron is one of two current hearing-impaired students. He works closely with Student Support Services (SSS), which helps students who are low-income, first-generation or have documented disabilities.

Director Jackie Wright explained that after a student applies and is accepted, SSS will work with them on an individual basis, providing anything from audio books to captioning. The program’s goal is to ensure that students stay in school and graduate.

If a student cannot complete a required class because of a disability, SSS will guide the student through the University’s official course substitution policy.

Since his enrollment, Ron has witnessed the program grow stronger.

“I fight. I fight a lot more for what is needed,” he said. “The SSS is willing to help, but they don’t have all the resources they need. JBU has potential for a huge open door. It’s disappointing to see them not pursuing that avenue.”

Wright said that each year the program has grown each year in the number of students served, in services provided and in financial resources available for program services and technology.