ASL STEM News

Reproductive Justice for the Deaf Community

Almost half of all pregnancies each year in the United States are mistimed or unwanted and associated with adverse health outcomes. Deaf women are as likely to be pregnant as their hearing counterparts but are 67% more likely to experience unintended pregnancy. Although there are limited data on the sexual health behaviors of deaf individuals, research has shown that deaf people are more likely than the general population to rely on withdrawal and condoms to prevent pregnancy. Further, health resources and communication with physicians are often not fully accessible, with the former often in spoken or written English and the latter when sign language interpreters are not present. In this commentary, I present literature to illustrate the disparity deaf women face compared with hearing women and to make the case for the association among unintended pregnancy, its adverse effects, and reproductive injustice for deaf women.

Science in ASL is a whole different language: Interpreters in STEM

Deaf and hard of hearing scientists often face a lack of communication access, which is troubling because they have made significant contributions to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields over the decades and diversify the STEM workforce. Therefore, sign language interpreters trained in science are critical to making STEM inclusive for deaf scientists. During my PhD journey in the past few years, I have slowly expanded my network of scientifically trained interpreters. Having worked with me for about three years, my scientific interpreters know my research and what I do. Having the same interpreters with me throughout my PhD is extremely important because it creates a communication barrier if the interpreter is not skilled in STEM vocabulary.

WADE-ing in Waquoit Bay

What’s in a word? A lot, if the word is “watershed” or any other concept from the field of coastal science. The need for words that convey complex concepts can be a challenge for deaf and hard of hearing students who rely on American Sign Language (ASL). American Sign Language does not have signs for many scientific concepts, which means bilingual users will have to borrow English words (via fingerspelling) to convey the concepts. Education programs at the Wells, Waquoit Bay, and Narragansett Bay Reserves are working to build ASL’s coastal science vocabulary—and create new learning opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing students—through the Watershed Stewardship in Action: Deaf Students on the Estuary project (WADE).

RIT/NTID laboratory director has life-size statue on display for If/Then She Can national exhibit

Dr. Tiffany Panko, a Deaf director of the Deaf Health Laboratory in the Center for Culture and Language at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, will be among 120 women in STEM personified in life-sized statues that will be on display in Smithsonian gardens and in select Smithsonian museums March 5-27 for the #IfThenSheCan — The Exhibit.

Deaf researchers are advancing the field of science — but barriers still hold many back

As attitudes slowly change, Deaf researchers are bringing their unique perspective to the lab and the field. "When science looks at that as an added cost, and added labour, to include people with disabilities, they're not recognizing the differences and the successes that can be brought — that diverse thinking can be successful," said Dr. Linda Campbell.

Expanding American Sign Language’s scientific vocabulary

A lack of signs for many scientific terms impedes deaf people’s entry into the sciences. Deaf scientists want to chip away at the barriers by developing more ASL signs for scientific terms.

Signs of quantum science: Collaborative project creates quantum science terms in American Sign Language

Because signs in American Sign Language (ASL) do not exist for many STEM concepts, interpreters are forced to fingerspell words in an effort to communicate concepts, forcing a deaf person to channel between ASL and English to make sense of topics discussed. A collaboration between Harvard’s Center for Integrated Quantum Materials (CIQM) and The Learning Center for the Deaf (TLC) is attacking this challenge, with the aim of developing ASL modules on quantum science topics for undergraduate students.

Tiffany Panko Named AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador

Tiffany Panko, M.D., M.B.A., a deaf postdoctoral researcher in the Rochester Postdoc Partnership, was named one of 125 IF/THEN ambassadors by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). IF/THEN seeks to further women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers. Panko is not only passionate about supporting women in STEM, she’s also an ardent advocate for health literacy and reproductive justice. She’s currently conducting a study – the first of its kind – to investigate whether Deaf women have the same level of understanding about contraceptives and family planning as hearing women.

School for deaf takes kids into woods for nature-based learning

The kids — and the adults supervising them — are part of the New Mexico School for the Deaf Forest Day Learning program. Marisa Soboleski, coordinator of the initiative, said the school has been conducting the program for four years and that each participating class spends a few hours in the forest every two weeks. Looking at the kids running around in the forest, Soboleski explained that having time for play is important. “Often adults look at play and think it’s frivolous, like ‘oh they’re just playing,’ ” she said. “But playing is full of developmental learning and it is a very powerful tool. Information is retained much more deeply.” Kim Hand, a pre-K teacher at NMSD, said in addition to play, learning from the classroom is incorporated into the forest program.

On becoming a physicist: Colin Lualdi shares the challenges and triumphs of a Deaf physics graduate student

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign physics graduate student Colin Lualdi quickly realized he was venturing into uncharted territory when he arrived at Illinois Physics at the start of Fall 2017. Deaf since birth and a native speaker of American Sign Language (ASL), Lualdi was now among a very small group worldwide of Deaf individuals working in physics. The exhilaration of performing cutting-edge research was accompanied by a sobering discovery: the lack of a common language model for effective scientific discourse in ASL was going to be a far greater challenge than he’d anticipated.

‘She has no barriers:’ Meet Bethany Baker, UNF’s first deaf nursing student

The UNF Disability Resource Center provides Baker with the interpreters while she does her clinicals at Flagler every Wednesday and attends classes. She also volunteers for service learning with the American Red Cross in Jacksonville.

Ph.D. student receives prestigious Microsoft Research grant for diversity in computing

Larwan Berke, an RIT Ph.D. student, was awarded the 2019 Microsoft Dissertation Grant for his work that uses automatic speech recognition as a captioning tool to enable greater accessibility for users who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.