National Association of the Deaf

Position Statement on American Sign Language (2008)



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“As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs . . .”

– George Veditz, Preservation of Sign Language, 1913

In 1880, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was established by deaf leaders who believed in the right of the American deaf community to use sign language, to congregate on issues important to them, and to have its interests represented at the national level. These beliefs remain true to this day, with American Sign Language (ASL) as a core value.

The NAD reaffirms its position that acquisition of language from birth is a human right for every person, and that deaf infants and children should be given the opportunity to acquire and develop proficiency in ASL as early as possible. This position is also in line with the stance of the World Federation of the Deaf and the United Nations on human rights, including the recognition of sign languages.

ASL as a Language

ASL is the recognized sign language of the deaf community in the United States of America. As is the case with standardized spoken, written, and signed languages worldwide, ASL conforms to linguistic principles (e.g., semantics, syntax, morphology, phonology, and pragmatics). The complex visual-spatial linguistic structure of ASL is distinct from English, a linear, sequential language based on auditory processes.

As with other languages, native fluency in ASL is achieved through exposure and interaction early in life. Learning of ASL as an additional language can also begin at any time and continue over the course of a lifetime.

ASL and Early Development

The earliest years of a child’s life are the most critical for language acquisition, a time when the foundation is formed for cognitive and literacy development. Babies are born with the innate ability to acquire languages accessible to them and used by their families and care providers. Language competency is essential for cognitive, social, emotional, and psychological development. The NAD takes the position that as a fully accessible visual language, ASL should be made available to every deaf infant, in addition to any assistive technologies that may be used to take advantage of the deaf infant’s access to the language(s) used by their families and care providers.

The NAD supports maximizing language proficiency in deaf infants through the implementation of a dual language approach; that is, incorporating early acquisition and learning of ASL and English. Furthermore, the NAD is strongly committed to ensuring that parents