Pointing the way: Sign2MINT
For the hearing impaired, terms such as "singularity" or "entropy" are very important in everyday scientific life and in communicative exchange about research content, but the appropriate technical signs are often missing. The Max Planck Foundation supported the project »Sign2MINT« and thus, for the first time, a German sign dictionary for the natural sciences could be developed. This makes our research environment more equitable and diverse.
The number of hearing impaired scientists and students in the so-called STEM* subjects (mathematics, computer science, natural science and technology) is steadily increasing in Germany. However, they are seldom assisted by qualified sign language interpreters, as there is no sufficient further training for the translators, no specialist German sign dictionary and no media materials on these subjects.
The project »Sign2MINT« was supported by the Max-Planck-Förderstiftung, and for the first time a German specialist sign dictionary for the natural sciences was developed. Around 5,200 new signs were thus developed in the fields of physics, geology, biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, medicine and astronomy. The new technical terms can be divided into three areas in which a technical term is typically used: School settings (29.6 percent), academic settings (43.9 percent), and everyday settings (26.6 percent). The Sign2MINT dictionary is barrier-free, user-friendly, and provided free of charge online via videos in German sign language on the Sign2MINT website.
Ingo Barth had the idea for the project: He was a Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics and is hearing impaired himself. In addition to his research work, he is active in the hearing impaired community, both nationwide and across Europe. This entails exchanging ideas, collecting, and categorizing specialist signs with the help of visual media.
In order to develop a new sign for a term like "singularity", sign language experts first have to discuss which new sign is appropriate for a technical term. Linguistic factors such as meaning, iconicity (i.e. the relationship of the linguistic expression to the reference object), parameters (hand shape, hand position, place of execution) play just as important a role as the feasibility of a technical sign.
The necessary work meetings incl. the video production with the deaf specialists from the MINT ranges followed thereby a pattern: At the beginning a specialized lecture was held, in order to refresh existing knowledge and open certain subranges of the respective technical discipline in sign language. The signs used were collected for individual technical terms, discussed and recorded as technical signs in a process of consensus building (balancing linguistic quality and desired quantity).
The recorded technical signs were then written down by the sign language interpreters present with the help of a notation system. After the decision for a favored sign was made, the new sign was recorded, cut and edited in the video studio of the Max Planck Institute in Halle according to the criteria for sign videos. In one day of shooting, about 600 to 800 signs could be recorded.
The final edited recordings were reviewed from different perspectives (correct gesture execution and facial expressions) in a Sign2MINT expert signing session. The clips were then supplemented with the metadata necessary for a database (technical term, origin of the sign, links and information on Wikipedia).
On the technical side, Sign2MINT was supported by the company Workplace Solutions (WPS). The company was already involved in another federally funded project for the hearing impaired. The open-source software developed by WPS also provided Sign2MINT with the necessary database infrastructure so that the new signs could then be used on the website. A significant and particularly helpful feature of the WPS database is the so-called "backwards search" - this allows users to search for the appropriate technical term when they know a sign.
This freely available aid breaks down communicative barriers and makes it easier for deaf people to access scientific subjects. They receive better chances with the specialized sign lexicon to convert as researchers their scientific ideas. It facilitates laboratory work and affected people can thus better pursue their own scientific career, since research results can be communicated more easily.
* Sidenote: the german translation for the acronym STEM is MINT (Mathmatics, IT, Natural science, Technology)