Signing science: new scientific terms in British Sign Language launched at British Science Festival

Technical language and terminology can be a stumbling block for science students who are deaf or hard of hearing. A Swansea University lecturer has helped to bridge that gap with a new glossary of specialist words which will be launched during the British Science Festival held in Swansea on Thursday 8 September.

Dr Rhian Meara, a Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol geography lecturer at Swansea University, is part of the British Sign Language (BSL) Glossary Project team based at the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) at the University of Edinburgh, which aims to develop academic terminology, and has thus far resulted in glossaries for chemistry, physics, biology, chemistry, maths and astronomy.

Dr Meara is about to start learning Level 4 of BSL (Level 6 equates to professional interpreter proficiency), but she first began learning sign language as a hobby and came to wonder how deaf students were catered for.

Dr Meara explains: “After searching online, I came across the Scottish Sensory Centre, and I could see that they had developed signs for numerous subjects. I was keen to help develop signs for my own subject, so I got in touch with them and soon a plan of action was formulated.”

Dr Rhian Meara

Dr Meara, whose specialism is volcanic eruptions and geochemistry, worked with a deaf focus group and deaf colleagues Dr Audrey Cameron, BSL Glossary Project Manager, and Gary Quinn, Assistant Professor at Heriot Watt University, to develop new BSL terms to cover topics including rivers, glaciation, weather, maps, and geographic information systems.

“My role in the group was to provide a list of the terms that needed to be created, along with definitions and explanations of the terms. Some of the terms are already in use, but new terms have also been developed.  The glossary provides a BSL sign for the terms, and often there is also a fingerspelled form. There is also a video explanation of the term in BSL with English subtitles. All of the terms are available on the BSL Glossary Project website, and we are currently developing a new app which we hope will make it easier for people to access the glossary. Additional content will be added to the glossary over the next few months.”

Dr Cameron added: “This glossary will help young deaf people to learn and enjoy Geography in the same way as their hearing peers.  It will be a useful tool for their teachers and interpreters.”

Following the talk at the British Science Festival, there will be a BSL guided walk around Singleton Campus, Singleton Park and Swansea beach, using the new signs.

The talk will be held in Lecture Theatre K between 4pm - 5pm on Thursday 8 September, and will be spoken in English with British Sign Language interpretation.