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Diversity in science

Environmental science in British Sign Language

A glossary of new British Sign Language (BSL) signs for environmental science have been created by the Scottish Sensory Centre, together with the Royal Society, to make science more accessible for the Deaf community.

Coral ecosystem
Coral ecosystem

Until now, key terms within environmental science haven't existed in BSL, making it difficult for the Deaf community to engage with important topics including climate change, biodiversity loss and global warming. The signs have been created by the Scottish Sensory Centre to bridge this gap, bringing together a team of over 20 people including members of the Deaf community, environmental scientists and BSL linguists. 

The signs are taken from GCSE and A Level curriculum, enabling students to study these topics and progress into a career in science.

Example of a new sign

Each of the 200 signs that have currently launched have a video of the sign and a video of the definition for that term in British Sign Language. There is also a written English language definition. 200 further signs will launch later in 2023. 

Example definition

English language definition: In the stratosphere, there is a layer of ozone. This layer is important because it prevents most of the high-energy ultraviolet solar radiation from the Sun from reaching the Earth's surface. When chlorine and bromine atoms or molecules encounter the ozone (O3 in the stratosphere), they will destroy the ozone molecules. The ozone layer will be destroyed. One chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules, meaning the O3 will be removed or depleted from the stratosphere.

Why is this important? 

Access to science is limited for people who don't have science terms in their language. By creating terminology more people can engage with the topic and can study and work in science. 

These new BSL signs are an important first step towards allowing BSL users to not only join the conversation about the current threats to biodiversity and the environment but also share their appreciation of the natural world. The representational nature of sign language offers us a unique lens through which to engage with the natural world around us. For deaf students and scientists, it means they no longer have to rely on fingerspelling complex terms.

 

The development of the glossary will benefit, for example, those attending future global climate and biodiversity summits and enable deaf voices to be heard as part of the debate – it will also act as a resource for sign language interpreters. 

 

Dr Audrey Cameron, Chancellor’s Fellow University of Edinburgh and BSL Glossary Project Coordinator

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