Why am I learning sign language for scicomm?

I am a firm believer and passionate advocate that science education and all the information generated from research should be made available for everyone.

This is one of the reasons that I started doing outreach and scicomm on social media.

But it wasn’t until I took part in a recent Soapbox Science event that I realised to stay true to my mission to share science and knowledge with everyone then I need to be more inclusive and accessible.

Why? Well, here is the story.

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At a recent Soapbox Science event, I was stood on my soapbox talking to the public about stem cells and trying to answer all the questions they had. One person came after the next in a steady stream to hear what I had to say, but it wasn’t until about half way through and a couple approached me. I greeted them with my routine to which one of them said to me ‘just so you know, my partner is deaf, but carry on because they are pretty good at lip reading’.

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Now as a science communicator, I am supposed to be able to communicate my science with everyone. But in this instance I couldn’t. Not properly anyway. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t even explain the basics to some members of the public who had taken some time out of their day to come up and listen to me.

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So for me to be able to stick to my mission and champion that science really is for everyone, I need to make myself better. I need to make my outreach more inclusive and my blog and social media content more accessible.

And, thinking back to that moment, the first thing I am going to do is start to teach myself British Sign Language – one of my goals for 2019.

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But this doesn’t just have to stop with science communication. We can all be more inclusive and accessible. Now I’m not asking everyone to become fluent in sign language. But I would like to encourage everyone to try and learn the sign alphabet.

And there are more ways that we can all be accessible. Especially if you are a fellow blogger, vlogger or content creator of any kind. Here are some of the other things I have tried to implement or will start to implement soon:

  • Add captions to any videos you make
  • Use colours that are suitable for colour blind individuals
  • Make sure all images have an image description attached

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So why am I learning sign language for scicomm?

Well to make myself a better science communicator, to be able to make my science more inclusive, because I love linguistics and learning languages and because for the first time in my life I’m no longer a student and I love learning new things. A forever student if you will!

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With all of that said, I will be starting a new feature on my Instagram called ‘Signing STEM’. I’m a passionate scicommer and educator so I will be sharing some of the sign language I learn with you all. Especially as I have found some awesome resources and connections who can help too. So follow me over on social media for this new feature that I am very excited about, or I will be sharing a summary each month on the blog too.

Finally, does anyone know what I’m signing in these images. Let me know in the comments.

Clue: I only know the BSL alphabet and a few others bits currently.

Collage of four images of two hands signing
Collage of four images of two hands signing

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How are you trying to make yourself better this year? Are you learning a new language?Do you know sign language and have any pointers for me? Would you say you are inclusive and accessible? If there is anything I can do to be more accessible to you as well, please call me out on it and let me know! Or if you would like more content on how you can be more inclusive, get in touch too.

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9 thoughts on “Why am I learning sign language for scicomm?

    1. That is awesome that you were thinking the same thing. What is your mother tongue if you don’t mind me asking? I really wish there was a ‘global’ sign language. It seems a bit odd to have evolved all different types of sign language too. But there are several signs for some words even within British Sign Language so I am willing to guess that knowing one might allow you to hazard a good guess about signs in others. Except for the American sign language alphabet as it is signed only using one hand.

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      1. It’s Croatian! Yes, I was wondering the same – to be honest, until couple of years ago, I believed there was only one sign language and it was more or less universal, at least in similar language groups. I felt so stupid when I found out the otherwise, but it kind of makes sense.

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        1. Doing science communication in Croatian would be awesome. I would always encourage others to share science in other languages than English. I would if I could. Plus I would love to follow along and learn some Croatian too. How do you normally communicate your science?

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          1. I’m still in school (Master’s in Molecular Biology), so only small things – conferences, articles in various student journals and manifestations open to public. I also run a student’s biological journal (all in Croatian) and I’m part of organizing committee’s of some symposiums. But I love #scicomm, so I’ve started this blog, which is in English, but I will do some posts in Croatian as well 🙂

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          2. That’s a lot of big things I would say. That’s awesome. Yes definitely do some in Croatian. It would be sad if your family and friends etc missed out because it was in English although I am sure they all speak English probably better than I do. Good luck with the blog. Let me know if there anything I can help with

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  1. Honestly, this is wonderful. I cannot imagine a better reaction after learning that members of the audience were unable to 100% understand. I love that you have taken upon yourself to make your lessons and connections more accessible. You are really changing the world, one sign at a time! Thank you so much for sharing.

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