Global Perspectives News

New signs in British sign language have made popular topic of climate change more inclusive

Two women engaged in a chat with sign language
Chatting away: British Sign Language has made climate talks more inclusive with new, dedicated signs (Pexels, Rdne Stock Project)

United Kingdom/ We all know about climate change and often talk about it. But did you ever consider how someone who is deaf might do the same? Now, thanks to 200 new signs related to environmental science in British Sign Language (BSL), they too can participate in and contribute to environmental conversations and debates. 

Since the 80 mathematics terms with which the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) started in 2005 with the aim to develop lists of subject-specific terms in British Sign Language (BSL), a lot has happened. Today, the glossary has developed into nearly 2000 signs and almost as many definitions in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics subject areas.

Now, with funding from the Royal Society, the SSC has added 200 new environmental related signs to its BSL Glossary Project, making the topics of climate and biodiversity science and climate discussions accessible to the deaf and the wider deaf communities in the UK. Media around the UK reporting on this latest development such as The Guardian, have highlighted how the new terms will be around energy, sustainability, and the impact of environmental change on humans, and that they will include the terms global warming, carbon neutral and deforestation.

Dr Audrey Cameron, who is described as profoundly deaf, and who leads the sign language project at the University of Edinburgh, told The Guardian she is happy that the signs will "allow BSL users to participate in the conversation about the current threats to biodiversity and the environment.” The glossary could, for instance, enable deaf people to attend global climate and biodiversity summits and participate in discussions.

Dr Cameron has also explained to BBC News how, in her own scientific career, a lack of vocabulary meant she was excluded from important meetings and conversations. "I was involved in research for 11 years and went to numerous meetings but was never truly involved because I couldn't understand what people were saying," she said, and added: "I wanted to talk with people about chemistry and I just wasn't able to."

Prof Jeremy Sanders, the chair of the Royal Society’s diversity and inclusion committee, further told The Guardian newspaper that the new signs aimed to “inspire and empower the next generation of BSL-using students and allow practising scientists to share their vital work with the world.” Other media have reported on how the new glossary can empower deaf people in climate change conversations and ensure them being heard in environmental debates. It can also act as a resource for sign language interpreters. 

The BSL Glossary team works with a wider group of deaf scientists and maths and science teachers from across the UK and has close links with deaf education in Scotland and throughout the UK. "Our target audience is deaf young people at school who use BSL and who want to learn independently using the internet. We are also pleased to know that many teachers, Communication Support Workers, interpreters and parents are using the Glossary too," it says on their website.

“I was involved in research for 11 years and went to numerous meetings but was never truly involved because I couldn't understand what people were saying"


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