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Clayton Valli, A Trailblazer In The World of ASL

In celebrating Deaf Humanity this week, please join us in a spotlight on the legacy of Clayton Valli (1951-2003) who is renowned as an ASL linguist, poet, and scholar. Not only was he proudly Deaf, he also lived his life as a proud gay member of the LGBTQI community.

Dr. Valli graduated from the Austine School for the Deaf in Vermont and went on to achieve an Associate of Applied Science degree in photography from the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID), a Bachelor’s in Social Psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno, a Master’s in Linguistics from Gallaudet, and finally, a doctorate’s in Linguistics and ASL Poetics from the Union Institute in Ohio (first person ever to receive a doctorate in ASL poetry).

Through his work, he made a huge impact in the appreciation, understanding, and use of ASL as a language and in poetry. He also contributed to the study of ASL sociolinguistics which is the understanding of the effects that background environment and social factors have on language. He even helped to pioneer the idea of ASL-as-a-first-language curriculum for deaf children because he recognized how ASL, including handshapes, had an impact on enriching the ability of children to gain an education.

As a poet, Dr. Valli drew international recognition for his original works of ASL Poetry where he often used nature imagery to convey the Deaf experience, most notably, the “Dandelion” that suggested how ASL persisted despite the efforts of Oralism to weed it out. Not only did Dr. Valli identify how the features of ASL poetry made it a literary genre in its own right, but his work also richly contributed to the growing legitimacy of ASL as a rich language. He said, “ASL poetry has two hands you can use to express yourself and they can both be doing separate things, which can add a depth to the message that spoken poetry can’t do when you only have one tongue to use.”

It has been nearly 20 years since Clayton Valli passed away of AIDS, but he STILL continues to make a huge impact on Deaf people, teaching us to find a deep pride in ourselves as Deaf people and appreciate how our visual language lives and breathes in harmony with Deaf Culture.

Explore Clayton Valli's Works

Three paintings from Nancy Rourke is in a row. There is one screenshot of Clayton Valli wearing a blue button up-shirt signing "dandellion". All paintings use primary colors as well as black and white.
Image courtesy of Signing Savvy ( Paintings produced by Nancy Rourke (




  3. “Dandelion” by Clayton Valli (as posted by Sorenson with credit to Sign Media, Inc.)

  4. “Nurturing ASL Literature”


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