In November of 2016, two Maryville College students participating in the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature’s General Assembly (TISL) crafted a bill that is being considered by Tennessee state legislators.
This bill, created by Molly Ridgeway ’18, TISL education lobbyist, and Joshua Anderson ’18, TISL senator, would advocate for the Tennessee State Board of education to implement American Sign Language curriculum as a course to satisfy foreign language requirements in Tennessee schools.
What started off as a mock legislature exercise has turned into a real legislature opportunity of a lifetime created from intelligence, love and a strong need for the needs of the deaf community to be recognized.
During the fall semester of 2016, MC TISL students looked to create and advocate for a bill in a mock legislature session. Over the course of the TISL assembly, the sign language bill was ranked as one of the top 10 bills from the assembly and flagged as priority legislation to be forwarded to the actual Tennessee State Legislature.
“It (the bill) was overwhelmingly supported in both the Senate and House of Representatives and was subsequently signed by the TISL Governor,” said Anderson.
Following the TISL assembly, Ridgeway and Anderson continued their work in researching current Tennessee education requirements regarding the bill as well as looking into what schools may already be doing with ASL.
“After discussion and meetings, Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) and Rep. Roger Kane (R-Knoxville) proposed the bill to the Tennessee General Assembly,” Anderson said in a press release from Maryville College communications.
Ridgeway and Anderson also traveled to Nashville to speak on behalf of their bill. Ridgeway said that she was excited but nervous throughout the event. She was grateful for the opportunity to help push the bill through, and their hard work paid off when the bill was passed through the senate and the first house committee when they attended the bill’s proposal on March 1.
“We testified in the Senate Education Committee and the House Instruction and Programs Subcommittee. The bill passed both bodie,s and so it is done on the Senate side,” said Anderson, “It also passed the full House Education, Programs and Instructions committee. We just have to pass one more House committee and then it will go on to the full House floor for vote.”
Anderson and Ridgeway both also noted the importance of the bill’s progress in the time frame it has passed through both the Senate and House. Anderson explained that it is often common for a bill to get held up for quite some time in terms of the priority of the bill as well as any questions that any legislatures had.
Anderson commented that their research and preparation paid off as they were able to answer any questions that legislators had and was thankful for the support both he and Molly had received from their campus community as well as Senator Massey and Representative Kane.
However, there is far more than research and great experience in legislation that has aided in pushing the bill through. Personal experience has impacted this bill as well, particularly for Ridgeway who has been non-verbal all her life.
Ridgeway is a Child Development major with Education Teaching Licensure, and from first-hand experience, she knows what a great help this bill would bring for the deaf and non-verbal community.
Ridgeway noted that her disability has given her a different and enhanced perspective in how she can advocate for the people who do not have a voice. She stated that the bill would help future educators like herself who are note able to communicate verbally to teach students and could increase the number of job opportunities in the field.
In addition to his relationship with Molly, Anderson also has strong ties to the deaf community as his aunt and uncle are both deaf as well. He noted that he has strong interests in advocating for people with disabilities.
“She was my major inspiration behind the bill,” said Anderson.
Anderson and Ridgeway’s chemistry is obvious when they are seen together; the MC couple met about a year and a half ago at an Intervarsity event in Knoxville. The couple jokingly discussed how they became a couple, as they met and were both very fond of one another from their initial introduction. However, it was Ridgway that initiated the pursuit.
“Molly is the type of person that knows exactly what she wants and she goes for it,” said Anderson.
It is that love and determination that has pushed their bill forward, as well as their relationship. Both Ridgeway and Anderson are confident that their bill will continue on to pass and look forward to the positive future they can help create for the deaf community.