Most people would be a little nervous if asked to spell ‘cytokinesis’, writes Jim Milnes.
But imagine a scientist having to spell it out, letter by letter, every time they used the word. And imagine trying to distinguish between ‘endothermic’ and ‘exothermic’, for example, purely through lipreading.
Until recently, that was one of the few options available to deaf scientists.
The process was time-consuming, but Dr Audrey Cameron, co-founder of Dunbar’s annual SciFest, has furthered the sign language glossary with the addition of 196 specialist physics terms.
They include ‘Milky Way’, ‘vacuum’ and ‘weightless’. 119 of them are brand new.
Audrey, who teaches chemistry with the help of a classroom translator, says she would have “benefitted hugely” if such a glossary had been available when she was at school.
She and her team at the Scottish Sensory Centre hope this should remove one of the barriers to deaf people studying science in the UK and beyond. This is mainly, she said, because the new signs “help to visualise the scientific concepts”, whereas previously there was no established British Sign Language sign for “mass”, and the sign for “weight” does not convey a scientific meaning.
“British Sign Language has not previously had a very large vocabulary in technical areas such as science because until the 1980s the language was excluded from the education system and deaf people didn’t get into scientific jobs. Things have changed since, and there are now Deaf BSL users in a wide range of scientific occupations.”
SciFest, which held its third edition last week, serves a vital function in helping Dunbar Primary School, the largest in the UK, to engage with the sciences.
This year, for the firtst time, all of the SciFest stage shows were British Sign Language interpreted.