Sparrow, biodiversity or climate change, to give just three examples, are words and concepts that come together in spoken and written language, and those who use one or the other usually have them perfectly at hand. But who expresses and communicates through sign language? What are these words called?
There was the problem. Because sign languages often do not have specific signs for naming many birds, species of the three kingdoms, or many commonly used scientific terms, etc. Now their language has 310 characters to name just as many animals, plants, minerals and other concepts of nature, science, research and museums.
Two projects are responsible for this progress: one by the bird conservation organization SEO/BirdLife, and another by the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN). Both with a common goal: to facilitate the inclusion of deaf people in their visits to nature or museums, as well as their access to knowledge and scientific culture without barriers and under equal conditions.
Tables for five languages
An initiative of five ornithological organizations from France, Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain, who worked with associations of deaf people in the respective countries to create names for 60 birds in sign language. This is the Banoffee project in which SEO/BirdLife participates from Spain. Cristina Sánchez, delegate of the NGO in Catalonia and coordinator of the project in Spain, tells about the origin of the project: “Talking to people from both associations, we learned that deaf people do not have a sign for each bird, which makes it difficult to enjoy nature, that when they go to the field afterwards they cannot tell by sign what they have seen, whether birds, plants, or other things. To name them, they have to spell the whole word. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, it’s a sign of a broader accessibility difficulty. For as they see and walk, they are the great forgotten in this aspect. It is a disability that goes unnoticed.
The result of the work of all these teams, united in a European Erasmus project, is “60 characters for so many birds that we have chosen among the most common and which, moreover, were common to the five countries participating in the project, all of them Mediterranean “.
In addition to the signs, the project includes the creation of a Handbook to improve accessibility in information centers and nature reserves “to have tools and formats that facilitate the help of deaf people for information.” Plus the development of a Handbook for Nature Guides and Interpreters “so nature tourism professionals are better
trained and can better look after the needs of these people when participating in routes etc.
However, the work is not finished: «there is a sequel, which will be about seabirds and other forms of life in the sea. And a second project with the creation of signs for plants».
For its part, the MNCN undertook the creation of 250 signs to be added to the Dictionary of Spanish Sign Language (DILSE), with the Assigned Science project, which it carried out in collaboration with the CNSE Foundation, belonging to the Confederation of the Deaf.
This initiative is a consequence of the work the museum is doing in the field of accessibility. Marta Fernandez, coordinator of this part of the museum, commented that “we regularly work with the Foundation to develop materials, such as multimedia guides for our exhibitions, that facilitate visits by deaf people. We find the need to create signs related to the natural sciences, as well as to facilitate the work of translators and teachers who conduct activities with students in the museum».
To compile the 250 terms, it was first decided how many we would make «It was decided to be 250, because it coincides with the anniversary of the museum. Later, we asked the staff who work here to contribute words related to the disciplines and objects present in the museum, to research, to education, etc. As well as terms such as climate, ecosystem, biodiversity or carbon cycle, which are currently so important and which are necessary to have a better scientific culture».
Thus, among the new words there are names of birds, mammals, rocks and minerals, etc., which already have their own new sign for expression. With all of them, a dictionary was created in printed and digital version. In addition to signs, the definitions and meanings of words and scientific terms have also been developed.
With the two projects awarded to Banofffee and Ciencia, we can hope that the wish expressed by Roberto Suarez, president of the CNSE, “we don’t just want to visit nature and museums, will be fulfilled. We also want to enjoy them and understand them.”
The sparrow, kestrel, pyrite, biodiversity or climate change now have their own signs