American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) is a language used by the deaf and hard of hearing who live in North America. Using hand gestures and facial expressions, a person can effectively communicate with others who know the language. Read on for more information about your employment options and career outlook, plus education, training and certification requirements for a job in ASL.

Is American Sign Language for Me?

Career Overview

You can assist individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing by learning American Sign Language (ASL). You'll be able to communicate with this group of people and provide services in a variety of settings. The language has its own rules for grammar, sentence structure and punctuation, and it even has regional dialects.

You could have many career opportunities in American Sign Language, due to the sheer number of people who can benefit from professional services in the language. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 28 million people in the United States are affected by severe hearing loss (www.nidcd.nih.gov). The earlier that children with hearing loss learn ASL, the easier it will be for them to acquire and use it fluently, so adults fluent in the language are needed in educational settings serving young people.

You might also work in business, government, social services or other areas requiring the talents of someone fluent in ASL. Two common job titles are sign language teacher and interpreter.

Career and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), experience is necessary if you want to work as an interpreter. Any practical training, including unpaid internships, can be helpful for building confidence, contacts and a technical background. The BLS predicts that between 2012 and 2022, employment of interpreters and translators will grow by 46%, a much faster rate than the average of 11% across occupations. As of May 2013, their median annual salary for these professionals was $42,420.

The BLS also reported in 2012 that demand was expected to be especially high for ASL interpreters, due in part to expanded development and use of assistive technology like video relay services (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, postsecondary American Sign Language instructors can expect job growth of 15% from 2012-2022, and these professionals earned median pay of $58,620 in 2013.

How Can I Work in American Sign Language?

Education

Through a formal education program in ASL, you'll take classes in novice, intermediate and advanced ASL. You'll first learn about finger spelling and number signing, and you'll begin to acquire vocabulary. In more sophisticated courses, you might study idea transitioning, storytelling, the history and culture of the Deaf community, Deaf literature, language development, variations in regional sign language and teaching ASL. You'll have opportunities to interact with members of the Deaf community and practice the language. ASL training is available through certificate programs as well as undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

If you're interested in being an ASL instructor at the postsecondary level, you're required to earn a master's or doctoral degree in teaching sign language. Most schools that offer these advanced programs require a bachelor's degree in ASL for entrance. You might also receive training in this language if you enroll in related degree programs. If you're studying to become a speech pathologist, you may learn ASL, since many of the people you'll work with will use the language.

Certification

Typically, upon completing a bachelor's degree, you'll have attained sufficient training to take the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) examination, which is offered through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Once you receive certification as an ASL interpreter, you can seek employment. You could work with children who have hearing impairments at schools, day care centers or in their homes. You might also interpret court cases or medical situations.

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