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American Sign Language bill inspired by love

A story of love is behind a bill to spread the use of American Sign Language (ASL). 

Companion bills HB 0462 and SB 0524 are currently moving through the Tennessee House and Senate. The legislation would require the state board of education to adopt and implement books and curriculum for ASL courses to satisfy high school foreign language requirements for graduation.

Maryville College juniors Joshua Anderson and Molly Ridgeway are the inspirations behind the bill. 

The two started dating about a year-and-a-half ago. Molly was born with a condition that keeps her from speaking, so she uses ASL to communicate. 

"Always in public people look at us kind of weird because they think she's deaf is what people think in public, and I'm not, she said," Joshua interpreted for Molly. 

Joshua learned the language to be able to have conversations with Molly and interpret for her.

"It felt important for me to be able to communicate with her the way she communicates," he said. 

Molly added with Joshua interpreting, "I feel like if he didn't learn sign, we would have broken up, and it was important to me that he learned sign." 

As the two continued in their relationship, they discovered a common interest in politics and helping other people. 

The couple worked with state Rep. Roger Kane, R- Knox County, and state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R- Knox County, to craft the bill that is now moving through the state legislature. 

"This'll open up those communication lines, and in case of Molly, you know, she can hear what you're saying, but she has a limited group of friends she can talk to, so there's all sorts of shades of what it will be doing," said Kane. 

Joshua and Molly testified before the House Education Committee to advocate for the bill. 

Joshua added for Molly, "She says it will help them accept deaf and hard of hearing people and help them better to communicate." 

The bill has already passed the full Senate, and as of Monday, still has some hurdles to pass in the House. 

Joshua and Molly are hopeful that the bill will pass and further encourage the education and use of ASL, the language they spoke to fall in love. 

"Our happily ever after is someday when we're old, and we can look back and look at the lives we've impacted," Joshua said. "I think this is just the beginning of what we want to do the rest of our lives."