History of the American Sign Language Teachers Association
By Glenna Ashton, Keith Cagle, Larry Forestal, Leslie Greer, E. Lynn Jacobowitz, and Bill Newell
During the 1960s and 1970s, initial research on American Sign Language as a bona fide language was conducted by William C. Stokoe with his Deaf colleagues Carl Croneberg, Dolores Casterline, Carol Padden, and Barbara Kannapell. In addition, the National Theater of the Deaf toured extensively which raised public awareness and recognition of ASL as a legitimate language in the United States.
In 1973, Terrance J. O’Rourke created the Communication Skills Programs (CSP) with a grant under the leadership of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Executive Director Frederick C. Schreiber. Mel Carter took over the CSP and SIGN programs in 1979 and coordinated them until 1984.The CSP provided standardization and facilitation of sign language instruction which contributed to the acceptance of ASL as a language course offering in educational institutions. Its success led to the establishment of the Sign Instructors Guidance Network (SIGN) in 1975 with its first official meeting in 1976 in Houston, Texas. The following people were presidents of SIGN; Marvin Sallop (1976-1978), Kenneth Rust (1978-1980), Larry Fleischer (1980-1984), Nancy Frishberg (1984-1986), and Bill Newell (1986 – 1990).
The organization’s name changed to American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) in 1991 which attracted more teachers as members of ASLTA during President Keith Cagle’s term. In 1992, the MCE (Manually Coded English) certification ceased putting the focus on ASL only. After 28 years under the auspices of NAD, a memorandum of understanding was signed by NAD President Libby Pollard and ASLTA President Leslie Greer which allowed ASLTA to become an independent organization starting 2004. The presidents of ASLTA were Keith Cagle (1990 – 1995), E. Lynn Jacobowitz (1995 – 1998), Leslie Greer (1998 – 2005), Glenna Ashton (2005 – 2009), Larry Forestal (2009 – 2011), and Glenna Ashton (2011 – 2013).
The first evaluation of ASL teachers was held during the NAD conference in Houston, Texas in 1976. As a new organization SIGN struggled during its first ten years to gain acceptance among ASL teachers so that by 1986 it became inactive. ASLTA President Bill Newell (1986 – 1990) was elected in an emergency meeting called by Gary Olsen, the NAD Executive Director, to revive and reorganize it during the 1986 NAD conference at Salt Lake City, Utah. The former certification evaluation system was suspended, the Board approved President Bill Newell’s proposal to create a new 3-level evaluation system at the 1988 conference in Charleston, South Carolina, and a new team of evaluators was trained using the new system. Keith Cagle and Bill Newell produced video materials to help candidates prepare for the revised evaluation system in 1996. The Certification Evaluation System continues to be revised, for example, a bachelor degree for all three levels has been required since July 1, 2012.
The first local chapter was established in Ohio in 1985; however, the Lilac chapter of Rochester, New York was the first officially recognized chapter which served as a model for more chapters that followed quickly. Today there are 38 chapters with more being formed. These chapters provide local professional development and networking opportunities, local advocacy, plus supporting and communicating with ASLTA on national issues. Separate national development conferences were initiated by President Leslie Greer in 1999 and have been held every two years since then. The 2011 conference is the first one hosted by an ASLTA chapter – Washington-ASLTA. The 2013 conference was hosted by North Carolina ASLTA while the 2015 conference was hosted by Minnesota ASLTA.
The 2017 conference will be hosted by Utah ASLTA in Salt Lake City.
ASLTA remained an affiliate of NAD but in 1996 also joined the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council on Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), an advocacy coalition for language teaching organizations, and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), a professional development group for teachers, both during President E. Lynn Jacobowtiz’s term.
During ASLTA President E. Lynn Jacobowitz’s term (1995 – 1998), she established and directed the National ASLTA Curriculum Project with the assistance of Drs. Rachel Stone and Laurene Simms to promote the development of a model K- 12 ASL curriculum for ASL instruction for L1 and L2 students and the states’ ASL legislation directory with the assistance of Elizabeth Lucey in 1996.
ASLTA President Leslie Greer (1998-2005) promoted close cooperation between ASLTA and the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) toward the implementation of an accreditation system for interpreter training programs and with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and NAD toward the implementation of the new interpreter certification system, now known as the National Interpreting Certificate (NIC). She also established the ASLTA web site which continues to improve and expand.
President Glenna Ashton (2005 – 2009) helped establish the ASL Honor Society which became successful quickly and the national K – 16 ASL Standards which will be published by ACTFL. The 2007 ASLTA Conference Proceedings in Tampa, Florida were published as a series of DVDs including the speakers, workshops, and topics on teaching ASL. The 2009 ASLTA Conference in Phoenix, Arizona partnered with Deafnation for media exposure.
President Larry Forestal (2009 – 2011) did historical research on ASLTA’s history and assisted with the 2011 ASLTA conference in Seattle, Washtington. He died May 2011. Vice-Preident Glenna Ashton stepped backup as President to complete the term.
President Glenna Ashton (2011 – 2013) oversaw the completion of two projects started in her first term. IRS 501c3 status was obtained which allows donations and grants. The national K-12 ASL Standards were completed for publication by ACTFL.
Forestal, L. (2009). History of the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA). 5th Biennial ASLTA Conference program book, Phoenix, Arizona, pg. 75.
Newell, W.J. & Greer, L.C. (2000) History of American Sign Language Teachers Association. NAD-ASLTA Conference program book, Norfolk, Virginia, pgs. 1-2.
Newell, W.J., Abenchuchan, M.M., Cagle, K.M., Carter, M., Jacobowitz, E.L., Madsen, W.J. & Norman. J. (1996). A brief history of Sign Instructors Guidance Network (SIGN) – American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA). NAD-ASLTA Conference program book, Portland, Oregon, pgs.5-7.