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How the Internet Helps Deaf Science Students Create New Signs

Illustration for article titled How the Internet Helps Deaf Science Students Create New Signs

How do you learn a concept if there is no word for it? That's a question people who are deaf and pursuing science often struggle with. The answer is not exactly easy, and involves a group effort across the non-hearing community.


The New York Times explains that the process of translating scientific words into usable sign language for words like "organism" or "photosynthesis" often starts like a game of charades. Students and teachers must act out these concepts and use finger spelling to explain them. And that makes it hard for deaf students to advance along with their peers who are able to hear.

But the internet has made that challenge a little less, well, challenging, especially online video—or even rubbable GIFs like these awesome ones the Times put together with Mayor Bloomberg's signer Lydia Callis—which makes it simple to show things visually and share the sign with others. And, increasingly, there's an effort to standardize scientific terms in sign language. The Times says that several universities are working on crowdsourcing projects in both American and British Sign Language to come up with new signs for words that don't have them. This year, for example, the Scottish Sensory Centre's British Sign Language Glossary Project introduced 116 new science and engineering signs. Gallaudet University, a college for the deaf and hard of hearing, has itself set up a wiki called the ASL-STEM Forum where anyone to suggest new signs for science, math, technology, and engineering topics.


Crowdsourcing, for now, seems to be the one of the best answers, although it's a trial and error sort of thing. That, plus GIFs—anything that helps people learn is a great thing. [New York Times]

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I've often wondered why deaf people don't just use something like this. Seems like it would be way easier than learning sign language. Small enough to be portable (well, maybe not this one, but you get the idea), text scrolls as fast as you can type it, message instantly understood by the hearing impaired and unimpaired alike. If I was deaf, I'd use one.