National ASL Day

Although there are currently over 1.5 billion people who live with some form of hearing loss, only about 430 million people have hearing loss that is considered disabling. Many of these individuals depend on sign language to help them communicate.

In North America, approximately half a million people use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate as their native language. This language has enabled them to communicate with others who also use this language.

ASL has become an important language outside of North America as well and is now one of the most prominent forms of sign language in the world. That’s why it is currently being celebrated with its own holiday, known as National ASL Day, celebrated every April 15th.

The History of National ASL Day

Before American Sign Language was created, communities all across the U.S. used their own forms of sign language, and these forms could differ greatly from one community to the next. Prior to this, Native American communities, particularly the tribes of the Great Plains, used sign language to communicate with one another while they were scouting or hunting.

ASL would originate in the American School for the Deaf (ASD), founded in 1817 in Hartford, Connecticut. This school was founded by divinity student and Yale graduate Thomas Gallaudet. After traveling to Europe to learn about deaf pedagogy, he decided to adopt the methods of the French Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris.

He convinced Laurent Clerc, an assistant to the French school’s founder, to return with him to the United States. With his help, Gallaudet managed to found the ASD on April 15, 1817. The first teacher at ASD, Laurent Clerc, taught using French Sign Language (LSF). Eventually, this contact with sign language led to the development of American Sign Language (ASL).

As time went on, other schools for the deaf were created, which helped to increase the popularity of ASL. The National Association of the Deaf and the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf also held national conventions that helped to spread ASL across North America.

Unfortunately, sign language wouldn’t be considered a “real language” until the 1950s and 1960s. This is when the legitimacy of ASL was established by linguist William Stokoe and aided by the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Today, linguists recognize ASL as a proper language, and it is now spoken by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Observing National ASL Day

This holiday celebrates American Sign Language, so it can be observed in any number of different ways. People can learn ASL, help spread the word about ASL using the hashtag #NationalASLDay, or even challenge their friends and family members to learn some words in ASL.

When is it?
This year (2024)
April 15 Monday
Next year (2025)
April 15 Tuesday
Last year (2023)
April 15 Saturday
Awareness & Cause, Education & Reading