Intergrating ASL into Our Lab Space
After being invited by the Collegiate Neuroscience Society & the Georgia Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing to participate in a STEM Camp for Deaf students, we were able to connect with high school students to educate them on synthetic biology techniques with the assistance of a Deaf Ph.D. student during a lab tour. In preparation for their visit, we met with an ASL professor to develop the lesson plan for the lab visit that included many visual aids and terminology, providing the interpreters with the resources that they need to communicate the activities to the students.
After the successful camp, we were able to get a better understanding of how students with a hearing impairment develop new sign language and communicate amongst each other. We then began to explore the options of ways to make our lab more accessible to every possible student.
The first step was to start looking up online stem databases to try to recreate signs for our A.S.L archive. We then started to record our videos on our own and checked with a Deaf student and realized that some of the words that we were signing were completely wrong. At that point, we decided to connect with an ASL instructor on campus and ASL student group to teach us signs for biology, create new synthetic biology terms for the American Sign Language.
Initially, during the meetings, we would communicate with each other using sign language and talking at the same time to introduce us to the language. We found some difficulties in creating new signs when we were working with a deaf student advisors because we had to explain to the student who was teaching.
We learned that when creating a new sign, the person translating needs to have both a clear understanding of the meaning of the words and how to describe them conceptually to make a useful visual sign to communicate with the hearing-impaired.
We also learned that American Sign Language is regional and that it is inappropriate for non-deaf people to create signs for people who are deaf. We then created a survey to find out how many students in the iGEM community were disabled. We saw a flaw in the questions that we asked, in that the students who responded didn’t have a disability, meaning that this an opportunity for other iGEM teams to find innovative ways to connect with other stem students who have learning disabilities.