Mason’s ASL program moves forward with ‘native speaker’

Kevin Taylor is the first native speaker hired by Mason to teach ASL courses. Photo by Bethany Camp.

The hiring of Kevin Taylor as program coordinator of George Mason University’s American Sign Language Program is a milestone of sorts.

Previously, the program ran primarily with adjunct professors, said Pam Baker, director of the Division of Special Education and disAbility Research in the College of Education and Human Development.

“Now we will have someone who is in-house and a native speaker of sign language who will be teaching in the program and supporting its expansion,” said Baker.

Taylor, who was born deaf and said he has been using ASL since he was 2½ years old, has a substantial educational background. He taught honors chemistry and physics at Model Secondary School for the Deaf at Gallaudet University for four years, and ASL and interpreting courses at Northern Virginia Community College for six years.

At George Mason, he will teach and help to expand the university’s ASL program into a minor, adding ASL IV and a deaf culture course for the 2018-19 academic year, as well as lab components for all individual courses. The program already offers ASL I, II and III, which can be used to fulfill the foreign language requirement.

“I’m excited about adding these additional courses, as the classes have been very popular and in high demand at Mason,” Taylor said in an email. “The program will give students the ability to work with deaf people in their future careers. The program will also help spread awareness about the deaf community, their culture and language.”

“[Washington] D.C., Maryland and Virginia have some of the largest populations of deaf people,” said Taylor, who has a master’s degree in ASL and deaf studies from Gallaudet. “So the more we teach students ASL, the better they will be able to communicate directly with their colleagues at future jobs in various fields.”

Professor Aja Puopolo, coordinator of Mason’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, who was involved in Taylor’s hiring, said he brings a welcoming and friendly energy many students need.

“A lot of students feel intimidated when they come to ASL classes, but when you meet Kevin, you want him around,” Puopolo said. “Apart from being very qualified for the job, he makes you feel very comfortable, just from his facial expressions, which are very important for deaf people.”

Taylor’s heavy involvement in the local deaf community is also a plus, and he will be co-hosting ASL dinners along with a former Mason student in the upcoming semesters.

“These will be great events for students to attend to meet other deaf people and practice their signing skills,” Taylor said, and added, “I am looking forward to working with the students and seeing them learn the language. I am also excited to teach and share about deaf culture.”