For background information on my efforts in getting ASL recognized as a language on the census form, please read: http://www.doncullen.net/?p=698
I was not able to reach a solution with the U.S. Bureau of Census. They made it clear they do not intend to recognize American Sign Language (ASL) on the census form. Furthermore, they also stated it would require congressional action requiring data collection on ASL usage. The contact, however, went out of his way to explain why this was the case and while no results were achieved, he was quite cooperative and responsive. He tried his best to answer in the most detailed way possible. If and when you contact him, please be polite, friendly, and professional in your interaction. I also advise contacting your local senator/congressperson about the possibility of taking congressional action in order for the U.S. Bureau of Census to finally recognize ASL.
In summary, the U.S. Bureau of Census does not recognize ASL on the census form. If you check the "Other" language option on the census form and write "ASL" on the blank line, they do not count it as ASL; instead, they count it as English. For them, this is following the standard operating policy.
The email is pasted below:
Hi Don,As always, your feedback is welcome.
I would be the contact person for all disability content related questions, concerns, etc. for the ACS and other Census surveys.
Currently, when individuals write 'ASL' in the language box, it is coded to be English. As such, we don't report a separate estimate for ASL users. While we could try to get an ASL question on the survey, we would have to identify a federal requirement or the need to collect this information. Every question in the ACS has a statutory requirement for its collection. If one doesn't currently exist, (and I believe one does not), we would have to have Congress pass a law requiring data collection about ASL use. From what I've gathered from the 'language' subject matter experts, the current language question is directed at assessing the need to provide written government materials in other languages.
We could see about getting ASL into other surveys like the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which has a supplemental questionnaire on disability, or in the National Health Interview Survey.
The documented reasons for the Language question in the ACS (and any other ACS question) can be found at: http://www.census.gov/acs/www/about_the_survey/questions_and_why_we_ask/.
The fact that "ASL" is coded as 'English' is done to serve the needs of the policymakers whose legislation requires the collection of this particular piece of data. Were any of the agencies that need language data to require 'ASL' as a separate option, the Census Bureau would be responsive to those requirements. It is typically not the place of the Census Bureau to unilaterally interpret how the statutory language should be translated into survey questions. We try to balance the needs of several agencies and stakeholder who use the data in a way that is operationally beneficial for as many groups as possible.
For the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) or National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), while [it may seem] an easier path towards getting the question on one of these surveys [as stated above], putting a question on any federal survey is not an easy task. When another Federal agency requires a new type of data collected, there is an assessment about which survey is the appropriate tool for measuring the desired topic. Then comes several rounds of testing in focus groups, content test surveys and other experiments. In additional, the sponsoring agency is usually responsible for funding any supplemental questionnaires or special surveys. For instance, the SIPP supplemental questionnaire on disability is sponsored by the Social Security Administration.
I'd be happy to discuss this further or answer any follow up questions you may have.
Matthew Brault, Statistician
Health and Disability Statistics Branch
Social Economic and Housing Statistics Division
United States Census Bureau