Developed and used as a means of communication for those who are deaf or hearing impaired, American Sign Language (ASL) is considered a natural language and is the predominant language used among the deaf and hard of hearing in the United States, as well as in English-speaking parts of Canada. The language was developed at the American School for the Deaf (ASD), located in West Hartford, Connecticut, in the early part of the 19th century. Since it originated, the use of ASL spread to schools for the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as throughout hearing challenge community organizations, across the United States.
American Sign Language is a recognized language, and there are a number of career opportunities available to those who are fluent in the language; sign language interpreter, postsecondary educator, and speech-language pathologist are just some examples of career options. If you are interested in pursuing a career in American Sign Language, you will need to first attend and complete a training and education program at an accredited school. To discover more about ASL careers, including earnings potentials and career outlooks, as well as some of the best schools that offer ASL programs, please continue reading.
ASL Career Statistics
As mentioned above, the three predominant careers in American Sign Language include sign language interpreters, speech-language pathologists, and postsecondary educators. Sign language interpreters are tasked with translating spoken and written words into ASL for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Interpreters often accompany public presenters, such as politicians, or teachers, converting the spoken word of the presenters into sign language. Speech-language pathologists work with individuals who may have a difficult time producing certain sounds or letters, or who have issues with swallowing. Individuals who suffer with these things often benefit from using sign language as a means of communication due to their inability to clearly pronounce or enunciate specific words or sounds. Postsecondary sign language instructors follow curriculum guidelines to teach postsecondary students who are enrolled in sign language courses. They teach their students how to properly form ASL hand gestures, how to translate spoken word to ASL, and how to translate ASL to spoken word.
An Overview of Education, Career Outlooks and Salaries
The following is a breakdown of the education required to attain a career in one of the three above-mentioned ASL-focused positions.
- Sign language interpreter. In order to become a sign language interpreter, you will need to attend a college or university that offers an accredited ASL program and successfully complete the program, and earn a bachelor’s degree in sign language interpretation, English, or foreign language. In this position, you will be responsible for converting spoken language into sign language by utilizing a variety of techniques, such as signing, lip reading, cued speech, and body language. Though a bachelor’s degree is necessary, certification is optional. As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a sign language interpreter was $39,267 per year, while a 19 percent job outgrowth is projected in this field between 2018 and 2028.
- Speech-language pathologist. In order to become a speech-language pathologist, you will need to attain a master’s degree in either speech language pathology or communications, from an accredited college or university. You will also need to complete supervised clinical work. Your key responsibilities in this role include evaluating and determining the speech issues of students, identifying the best treatment options, and teaching alternate methods of communication. In all US states, speech-language pathologists must have a valid license. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for speech-language pathologists in 2018 was $77,510, and the between 2018 and 2028, it is projected that this field will grow by 27 percent.
- Postsecondary foreign language and literature educator. In order to become an ALS postsecondary teacher, you will need to have either a master’s or doctoral degree in American Sign Language or foreign language from an accredited college or university. The primary responsibilities in this role include developing educational materials to train students how to use, read, and convert ASL. You will also need to evaluate student progress, and assist them with meeting all of the requirements that are necessary for completing and graduating from the program. Postsecondary ASL teachers must have a teacher certification or license. As per the BLS, the job growth outlook between 2018 and 2028 is 8 percent, and the median annual salary in 2018 was $67,640.
What Type of Career Options Are Available in ASL?
Those who are seeking a career as a sign language interpreter can work at public gatherings and conferences translating the spoken word and other pertinent information. Alternatively, you could work in the legal, medical, or mental health field; however, additional training and certifications may be required. Television and theater productions regularly seek sign language interpreters to translate spoken word and other information for deaf and hard of hearing viewers. Additionally, there are opportunities to work at grade schools, colleges, universities, business settings, and in technical fields.
Are there alternative careers that are related to ASL?
In addition to the main career paths discussed above, there are some related alternative careers. Special education and adult literacy teachers share some of the same duties as those who work in the field of sign language. Educators in these fields work with students who have learning and/or developmental disabilities, or who make speak a language other than English as their first language at home, and as such, these educators may need to modify instructional materials to help their students process and comprehends the subject matter, for example. Working as a special educator or adult literacy teacher is similar to the work professionals who use American Sign Language do, as they are tasked with finding ways to bridge gaps in communication so that their students can connect with and understand the subject matter and material they are presented with.
Special education teachers do need to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in a program that focuses on teaching special needs students. They must also obtain a teaching license. Adult literacy educators must also acquire a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in a program that focuses on teaching literacy instruction.
What do You Need to Learn to Earn an ASL-Based Career?
In order to work as an interpreter, you will need to have an associate’s degree in sign language interpreting. If you would like to become American Sign Language (ASL) certified, familiarize yourself with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), which offers the ASL credentials that are required to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Typically, associate’s degree program in sign language may include courses that focus on interactive interpreting, the deaf and hard of hearing community, the history of the deaf and hard of hearing community, as well as conversational American Sign Language. For bachelor’s degree programs, in addition to the aforementioned areas of study, courses may also include the study of deaf culture, voice registers, linguistics, sign language structure, ASL morphology, and teaching ASL. You may also need to participate in workshops and seminars.
Can you become certified in ASL?
Once you have gained extensive knowledge and experience in understanding and translating American Sign Language, you can pursue a professional certification; a the National Interpreter Certification, for example. Ample networking and continuing education programs and workshops can be found through the National Association of Deaf and RID. Additionally, in rare situations, RID may grant certification to individuals who don’t have a formal degree. With cases such as these, you will need to have an in-depth understanding of ASL, multiple years of experience interpreting ASL, and education in sign language to some extent, though not necessarily a degree.
The Best ASL Colleges
There are American colleges and universities that offer degrees and certifications in American Sign Language. The following is a breakdown of these academic institutions, based on the type of ASL programs they offer. The ASL programs that are offered at these schools are a combination of 100 percent remote, 100 percent in-person, or a combination of both in-person and online.
ASL Certificate Programs
- Berkeley City College
- Boise State University
- College of DuPage
- Crafton Hills College
- Cuyamaca College
- Gallaudet University
- Grossmont College
- Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis
- Los Angeles City College
- Minnesota State Community and Technical College
- Montgomery College
- Mountwest Community and Technical College
- North Hennepin Community College
- Palo Verde College
- Phoenix College
- Pine Technical and Community College
- Saint Louis Community College
- Saint Paul College
- Santa Fe Community College
- Santiago Community College
- Tulsa Community College
- Union County College
- Wayne County Community College District
- Western Nevada College
- American River College
- Antelope Valley College
- Bakersfield College
- Berkeley City College
- Bristol Community College
- Chaffey College
- Coconino Community College
- St. Catherine University
- University of Houston
- University of Rochester
- Utah Valley University
- William Woods University
- Framingham State University
- Idaho State University
- Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
- Kent State University at Kent
- Keuka College
- Lamar University
- Liberty University
- Madonna University
Scholarships for American Sign Language Schools
There are several scholarships available to students who are interested in majoring in American Sign Language. Whether obtaining a certificate or a degree, the cost of attending a program can be exorbitant. Scholarships can help to absorb some of those costs, as they award funds that can be put toward a student’s education, and that money does not need to be repaid.
Examples of scholarships that are available to students who are studying American Sign Language, deaf education, or deaf studies include the following:
- American Sign Language Teachers Association – This scholarship awards $1,000 to $3,000. Students who are enrolled in deaf studies, deaf education, ASL, or an interpreter preparation program can apply for this scholarship.
- The American Sign Language Project, NFP – This scholarship awards those who qualify and who are approved $6,000 that they can put toward their studies. Full-time undergraduate and graduate students who are seeking a degree in deaf/hearing communication can apply for this scholarship. Applicants do need to have a 3.0 GPA and they must also be permanent residents of the United States.
- Michael Fryzlewicz Scholarship – With this scholarship, individuals can be granted up to $3,000 to apply toward their education. It is open to full-time students who attend Columbia College Chicago. Applicants will need to have a minimum GPA of 3.0. They must also submit their FAFSA results.
- Gerald “Bummy” Burstein Scholarship – This scholarship can grant qualifying students up to $5,000 that they can put toward their studies. Both hearing and deaf students who are members of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf can apply for this scholarship. Those who are interested in applying will need to submit two letters of recommendation, as well as an essay that explains their current work in interpretation, and their future objectives.
- Preston Bass Interpreter Scholarship – The amount that will be awarded for this scholarship varies, and depends on the individual applicant’s needs and qualifications. Students with at least one deaf parent and who are currently enrolled in a program that teaches ASL interpreting can apply for this scholarship. Applicants will need to have a minimum GPA of 3.5.
American Sign Language Resources
The following are helpful resources that those who are interested in enrolling in an ASL program can use to guide them through their training, education, and career.
- American Translators Association. More commonly referred to simply as the ATA, the American Translators Association offers certifications for interpreters and translators. Both deaf and hearing individuals can use the site to find and hire interpreters.
- Deaf-Hearing Communication Center. The DHCC offers deaf and hard of hearing individual interpreters in Philadelphia and other regions of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. They also offer beginner and conversational ASL classes.
- International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA). The ASL division at IMIA offers medical-translation training for ASL interpreters. The group defends the rights of deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
National Association of Interpreters in Education. The NAIE assists educational interpreters with improving the lives of deaf and hard of hearing learners. The NAIE also encourages standards for interpreters and provides continuing education and skill development.