While you might not encounter American Sign Language every day in Frederick, it is an increasingly common sight to see this visual language on the street, in stores and restaurants, between parents and children, friends, and strangers.
Frederick’s deaf community is one of the largest in the country, and the size of the community can be attributed to the presence of the Frederick branch of Maryland School for the Deaf, which is the largest deaf school in Maryland; the proximity to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only deaf University in the world; and the growing popularity of ASL as a language elective creating a more deaf-friendly city.
Jerri Seremeth, head of Frederick Community College’s Sign Language department, was interviewed through a translator. She said the city’s deaf friendliness is a feedback loop caused by an uptick of deaf accessibility in common places, such as stores, offices, and healthcare services, from students who have been taking ASL classes and who work or go on to work at these various places.
“It’s really positive and a great thing, having communication access,” she said.
As a result, the deaf community grows as more deaf people move to Frederick because of increased accessibility and opportunity, and the incentive for students and people living in and around Frederick to learn ASL grows, repeating the process, she said.
According to the official county school websites, for the following counties, Frederick County Public Schools teach more ASL courses than surrounding areas, often by a significant margin. Frederick County offers five levels of ASL as a high school language elective, while Montgomery County, adjacent to Washington, D.C., offers four. The other neighboring counties offer fewer, with Howard County offering three levels, and both Carroll and Washington counties offering none.
This trend is more prominent within the advanced educational systems. ASL is the most popular language course at FCC, with the college offering numerous courses, three certificates, and two degree programs, one in ASL studies and one in ASL translation. The official websites of other referenced community colleges also establish that Montgomery Community College has the next largest ASL program, with half of the available courses, and 1 certificate and degree program in ASL studies.
Seremeth said the increase in ASL at FCC and in Frederick County, and the worldwide increase in exposure to sign language through television and social media, is “really cool.”
Brandt Overman, a member of Frederick’s deaf community, agreed. He said he is hopeful the increasing popularity of ASL in Frederick will result in greater opportunities for the city’s deaf community.