Priority bill could make ASL official language in Nebraska

HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - Roughly 20% of Nebraskans have some type of hearing loss, with about 1% of them classified as deaf. Even with more than 300,000 estimated Hard of Hearing or Deaf people, Nebraska is still one of only five states in the US that doesn't recognize American Sign Language as an official language.

Photo: U.S. Air Force

Senator Anna Wishart hopes to change that with LB 839. She worked with the Nebraska Commission of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on the bill that, if passed, would recognize ASL as an official language.

The Commission's Executive Director, John Wyvill, told Local4 News this could be huge for the Deaf community.

"Giving official state recognition will also recognize members of the Deaf community as an equal citizen before the law," Wyvill said. "It's very cultural and significant that we recognize this as a language."

Benjamin Larson is a Hard of Hearing man who lives in Hastings. He told Local4 that he supports the bill because he hopes it will raise awareness and encourage more people to learn ASL.

"I think it's very frustrating when you go to for instance a restaurant or something and there's not the help that we need where you need to write on a piece of paper or whatever in order to get that order," Larson said. "If something like this passed, it would be more eye opening for people and there would be more opportunities for interpreters."

If passed, the bill would bring more opportunities for interpreters and also for the Deaf community as a whole.

"It was very personally moving to me that the Senator immediately knew that this was a very important, emotional, symbolic bill for the Deaf community and others," Wyvill said.

The bill merged with LB 965, which also highlights the need for Sign Language. The two are now a priority bill for the Speaker of the State Legislature..