Writer: Angela Seal

As demand for American Sign Language (ASL) courses increase, the University of Georgia is offering more classes in and outside Athens and is considering adding ASL courses geared to people in specific careers, such as medicine and education.

The Georgia Center for Continuing Education now offers four levels of ASL classes in Athens and at the UGA campus in Gwinnett County. Students have been asking for an additional level of study to further increase their proficiency.

“Students are as far advanced as they are because they do a lot of practice at home, They’re a very dedicated group of folks.” said Venus Stone, a program coordinator for the Georgia Center.

Some of the students who enroll in the ASL continuing education courses want to be able to communicate better with friends or family who are deaf, Stone said. Georgia Center.

“There are some people who come in who are looking to use it in their jobs,” Stone said. “We have people who are in healthcare or particularly in education (who are) looking at it from a more professional standpoint.”

Improved marketing helped increase enrollment after a slow start in 2011.

“We didn’t do so well that first year,” Stone said. “We ended up canceling a lot of classes.”Students earn certificates of program completion for basic and advanced levels and course hours can be counted as continuing education units (CEUs) for Georgia teachers and as a foreign language credit for some high school students.

“We focus on language acquisition and trying to develop that vocabulary to be able to communicate,” said Aisha James, an ASL course instructor. Students are expected to be conversant in sign language after completing the fourth level course.

Alphonso McKibbins, 36, is taking sign language classes offered through UGA at the Gwinnett Campus. He hopes to pursue a career in the field.

“I’m using the class to prepare me to interview for the interpreter program at Georgia Perimeter (College),” said McKibbins, who lives in Riverdale, Ga., and is a substance abuse counselor. “I know some people who are deaf and I also want to be able to communicate with them. I really have developed a really fond interest in ASL.”

Learn more about courses offered by the Georgia Center for Continuing Education at http://www.georgiacenter.uga.edu.