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Accommodating American Sign Language Students Who Have Disabilities:

A representative from a college center for students with disabilities writes:

Good Afternoon Professor Vicars,
I have a student enrolled in your "ASL 2" course. She has requested to write down the letters as you fingerspell during a test. She said that she asked you about it and you said she had to get an accommodation letter if she was going to be allowed to do this. Before I do the accommodation letter I want to make sure that this accommodation would not fundamentally alter your course requirements. I am not sure if one of the goals of the course is for your students to be able to interpret your finger spelling and answer in a timely manner to demonstrate that they could hold a reasonably flowing conversation? If this is a goal would her having the ability to write down the letters during the test alter your course requirements?

On the other hand, if this is not the goal and her writing down the letters while you finger spell during a test would not fundamentally alter your class then I will go ahead and revise her accommodation letter to allow her to do this.

Thank you for your time and if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me.

Have a wonderful day,

Molly Smith (name changed), M.S.
Learning Disabilities Specialist


Hello :)
I give three kinds of tests in this semester's "American Sign Language 2" course:

Receptive: I sign and the students write.
Expressive: The students sign and I make notes.
Culture: Matching and/or multiple choice.

It seems the student is requesting to be able to write down the letters of fingerspelled words that I spell as part of the "receptive" testing that I do in class. Thus she is "requesting" something that is actually "required" as part of the test. YES by all means she can, (and should / must) write down the letters so that I can see if she understood the letters that were in the fingerspelled word.

Now, if the student is requesting that I slow down or hold each letter of a fingerspelled word steady in the air until she has written it onto her paper prior to my moving on to the next letter of the fingerspelled word, I must say that would indeed change the fundamental nature of the class in general and the test in specific -- since one of the things the test is designed to discover is whether or not the student can understand signing in a timely manner (so as to be prepared to move on to the next level course and so forth until being able to have gained the ability to actually communicate with individuals who are Deaf). If this cannot be accomplished by the student due to a disability then the "proper" accommodation for the student may be to give her a letter waiving the "Foreign Language" requirement and/or allow her to use a course such as the Deaf Culture course or some sort of "Ethnic Studies" course to satisfy the requirement.

One of the ways I test fingerspelling is to use this website:
That is a website I built to help people practice understanding fingerspelling.
I also use it as part of some of my tests.

The benefit is that it is "very" consistent in speed and thus "extremely fair."
A rough guideline is that an ASL 2 should be able to catch 7 out of 10 words on the first try at medium speed (for a C), 8 for a B, and 9 for an A-, and 10 out of 10 for an "A." (Meaning: An "A" student near the end of ASL 2 will generally catch all or almost all of the fingerspelling at medium speed (at a six letter maximum length).
Additionally, I'd like to note that isolated fingerspelling is at most "3 questions" out of 25 questions (or out of 30 questions) on my exams. Thus the percentage of occurrence of fingerspelling in my tests is very reasonable. Occasionally some of the sentences I sign have fingerspelling in them but those occurrences are of typical and regular items such as the term "ASL" or "SAC" (for Sacramento) -- which students are expected to be familiar with since they show up so frequently (in our area).

So, you may wish to explain to the student that she is welcome to write each letter off to the side (as I spell) and then look down and piece the letters together into a word and write that word on the answer line. (No accommodation letter needed.)

In general though, no, an accommodation letter could not be used to try to force me to slow down my spelling during testing. (Forgive my use of the term "force." I know that is not what is going on here.) I know we are all simply trying to make sure that what is best for the student and society actually happens. The long view is we are also trying to protect the student from wasting years of her life studying sign language in the hopes of becoming an interpreter and then finding out upon graduation that nobody wants to hire an interpreter who has to write down fingerspelled words in order to figure out what is being signed.

If she is simply trying to fulfill the Foreign Language requirement by taking ASL 2, then our main concern should be to assure her that if she is within a few % points of passing with the necessary C-, (and has put forth a solid effort at attendance and homework) and it is determined that the "fingerspelling" issue was the straw that "broke the camel's back" (and that her disability precludes her from doing well on receptive fingerspelling) then CERTAINLY we can revisit her grades and substitute some equivalent but different measure of competence and grant her the C- so she can be on her way toward graduation (along with a clear admonition that continuing upward to "ASL 3" is not advised since it too will involve fingerspelling -- and at an even faster pace).

Thank you Jamie for all that you do on behalf of our students.
Dr. V



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