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30/09/2014

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STEM and disability

Various initiatives are under way, say Gary Quinn, Rachel O’Neill, Audrey Cameron, Bola Fatimilehin and Adrian Fenton.

Deaf students study science using British Sign Language

Gary Quinn, Rachel O’Neill and Audrey Cameron

How would you talk about thermodynamics when lip-reading won’t tell you the difference between ‘exothermic reaction’ and ‘endothermic reaction’? This is a problem that we have been trying to solve for the deaf community to aid deaf students studying science.1
Many deaf students use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate, yet there are few signs used for scientific terms. Our solution is to work with a team of 15 Deaf scientists and sign linguists from across the UK to collect and develop new signs for science.

Gary Quinn, Rachel O’Neill and Audrey Cameron

How would you talk about thermodynamics when lip-reading won’t tell you the difference between ‘exothermic reaction’ and ‘endothermic reaction’? This is a problem that we have been trying to solve for the deaf community to aid deaf students studying science.1
Many deaf students use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate, yet there are few signs used for scientific terms. Our solution is to work with a team of 15 Deaf scientists and sign linguists from across the UK to collect and develop new signs for science.
Since 2007, the team, based at the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) of the University of Edinburgh, has collected and developed over 850 BSL signs for biology, chemistry and physics. We have tried to make the signs iconic to represent scientific terms to make it easier for deaf children to understand the scientific concepts. We also make sure that the signs build on one another to help convey the scientific relationships between the terms.

For example – exothermic and endothermic reactions:

Exothermic reaction uses the basic sign for reaction which the chemistry team developed, a left to right movement, with heat given out as it goes. If you contrast this with endothermic, you can see the heat being sucked in instead (also evident in the puffed cheeks of the first example, and the sucked in cheeks of the latter).
There are other websites with signs for science but our glossary is unique because we include video clips of definitions and laboratory experiments in BSL and written English.
Since the launch of the glossaries, the team has promoted them nationally and internationally in schools, at British Science Association shows, conferences and workshops. We are grateful to STEM Disability for giving us financial support to develop and film nearly 120 new physics signs this year.

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1 In this article the term Deaf is used to mean people who use British Sign Language as their first or preferred language, while deaf refers to all other groups of people with hearing loss

The STEM Disability Committee

Bola Fatimilehin describes the larger context

At the moment, 12 per cent of engineering professionals in the UK report having a disability, against 20 per cent of the working age population. Given the potential skills shortfall and the under-representation of disabled people in engineering, there is a clear business case for making STEM education and careers more accessible.

The Royal Academy of Engineering is really pleased to be a member of the STEM Disability Committee (STEM DC). The Committee was established in 2011 as a cross-STEM collaborative group of professional bodies to consider practical ways to improve policies, practices and provision for disabled people. Its area of interest spans the whole STEM pipeline, including those aspiring to a STEM career as well as those already employed in a STEM role.

Bola Fatimilehin describes the larger context

At the moment, 12 per cent of engineering professionals in the UK report having a disability, against 20 per cent of the working age population. Given the potential skills shortfall and the under-representation of disabled people in engineering, there is a clear business case for making STEM education and careers more accessible.

The Royal Academy of Engineering is really pleased to be a member of the STEM Disability Committee (STEM DC). The Committee was established in 2011 as a cross-STEM collaborative group of professional bodies to consider practical ways to improve policies, practices and provision for disabled people. Its area of interest spans the whole STEM pipeline, including those aspiring to a STEM career as well as those already employed in a STEM role.

Specific support
One STEM DC project supports assessors who conduct needs assessments for STEM students aiming to qualify for the disabled student’s allowance. It will provide details of the specific core skills required to study different STEM degrees, such as lab skills, level of maths skills needed, requirements for placements or fieldwork and so on, and give examples of the types of adjustments assessors could consider.
Another project supports dyslexic students with their maths. Students with dyslexia can find that they encounter a number of challenges with maths on their STEM course. This project aims to give guidance for those who support students with dyslexia, giving specific examples and guidelines for departments.

Signing project
A third project supports the development of British Sign Language (BSL) signs for engineering and mathematics, as reported by Audrey Cameron and her colleagues. The background to the project is that, in 2010, a conference hosted by the Institute of Physics exploring barriers faced by disabled scientists and engineers highlighted the limitations of BSL as a potential barrier to the study of physics and engineering. Following the conference, the STEM DC funded the Scottish Sensory Centre to develop signs for engineering and physics. The result was the development of 119 new signs showcased at an event at the Royal Academy of Engineering in June 2012. The event was extremely well received and the committee is now considering how best to ensure the signs are accurately and consistently disseminated to students, educators, interpreters and examination boards.
To find out more about the membership and work of the STEM DC, see www.stemdisability.org.uk or contact us by email at contact@stemdisability.org.uk

CREST aims to reach more disadvantaged students

Adrian Fenton explains how.

With continued support from the Department for Education, the CREST Award scheme is putting more focus on students often termed 'disadvantaged'.
Recognising the difficulties in even defining 'disadvantaged', let alone deciding the fairest approach, we see this as an opportunity to emphasise the relevance of project-based work in STEM for any student. We want to provide opportunities to make the award accessible to all.
The CREST Award scheme provides a framework for project-based work in science and technology, with over 30,000 young people achieving an award each year at either Bronze, Silver or Gold levels. There is something to offer all students, whether they end up as tomorrow's research scientists or benefit from the procedural hands-on skills and perseverance needed. Particularly at Bronze, 'distance travelled' is a term often heard when projects are assessed, with less of an emphasis on grading.

Adrian Fenton explains how.

With continued support from the Department for Education, the CREST Award scheme is putting more focus on students often termed 'disadvantaged'.
Recognising the difficulties in even defining 'disadvantaged', let alone deciding the fairest approach, we see this as an opportunity to emphasise the relevance of project-based work in STEM for any student. We want to provide opportunities to make the award accessible to all.
The CREST Award scheme provides a framework for project-based work in science and technology, with over 30,000 young people achieving an award each year at either Bronze, Silver or Gold levels. There is something to offer all students, whether they end up as tomorrow's research scientists or benefit from the procedural hands-on skills and perseverance needed. Particularly at Bronze, 'distance travelled' is a term often heard when projects are assessed, with less of an emphasis on grading.
Having been a teacher myself, I can appreciate the day-to-day pressures that make it difficult to implement project-based approaches with all students. For this reason, CREST is adopting a number of strategies to increase the engagement of disadvantaged schools, including exploring ways to increase flexibility in the formats for reporting.

New strategies
One innovation is Intro to CREST: a supported pilot offered to build confidence in teachers who have not previously experienced the scheme.
CREST has a good record in gender inclusivity, with about half of the awards already being achieved by girls. However, it is also encouraging girls' participation through specific pilots and monitoring the gender split.
Just to emphasise, this is not a strategic change for CREST, just an opportunity to remind teachers of its relevance for all students. We're keen to remind audiences that UCAS endorses CREST Awards for inclusion in students' personal statements - a fact that we're proud of. But this doesn't exclude students in differing circumstances (for example, pupil referral units, those with specific special needs or other barriers to learning), and we're keen to emphasise this message. We realise this is an on-going challenge, and resourcing limitations mean it's no easy task that can be resolved through a quick fix, but engaging the hard to reach is core to the principles of the CREST scheme.
Whilst focusing here on CREST, it's important to remind ourselves that the British Science Association also encourages the engagement of wider audiences of young people through its other activities, particularly at the British Science Festival and National Science and Engineering Week.

Gary Quinn
Gary Quinn is a Deaf lecturer in sign linguistics, based at Heriot-Watt University
Rachel O’Neill
Rachel O’Neill is a lecturer in Deaf Education based at the University of Edinburgh
Dr Audrey Cameron
Dr Audrey Cameron is a Deaf chemist, secondary teacher and Science Advisor for the Science Signs Project at the University of Edinburgh
Bola Fatimilehin
Bola Fatimilehin is Head of Diversity at the Royal Academy of Engineering
Adrian Fenton
Adrian Fenton is the Young People's Programme Manager at the British Science Association
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