This new ‘sign language’ by a Leeds University scientist will open up the world of science for the deaf

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New work on ways to make modern science more accessible for the deaf community is being led by Leeds University.

Advances in science outpace the development of sign language to explain them, says a leading researcher.

Dr Olja Panic, an astrophysicist at the University of Leeds, says deaf people are among the most disadvantaged when it comes to opportunities to engage with science.

She is leading a project to develop 50 new ‘signs’ which will help explain her research into the way planetary systems are formed. 

Most deaf people in the UK who use a sign language use British Sign Language, that has around 100 basic signs that describe astronomical concepts. But it is only in recent years that a sign has been created to describe black holes, for example.

Dr Panic said: “When it comes to astrophysics and other areas of science, the deaf community face considerable challenges because the language that would allow them to explore and discuss astrophysics is not there.

“It is important that science is accessible, and the new signs will allow scientists like myself to give talks, lectures and workshops through which, with the help of an interpreter, I could share my research.”

The project is being funded by the Royal Society and is led by the University of Leeds. Professor Carlos Frenk FRS, chair of the Royal Society’s public engagement committee, said: “This project is a great example of how to put into practice one of our key strategic priorities: to demonstrate the importance of science to everyone.”