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Lydia Callis: Pushing Science’s Limits In Sign Language


NEW YORK CITY- Pushing science’s limits in sign language lexicon. Imagine trying to learn biology without ever using the word “organism.” Or studying to become a botanist when the only way of referring to photosynthesis is to spell the word out, letter by painstaking letter.

For Deaf students, this game of scientific password has long been the daily classroom and laboratory experience. Words like “organism” and “photosynthesis” to say nothing of more obscure and harder-to-spell terms have no single widely accepted equivalent in sign language. This means that Deaf students and their teachers and interpreters must improvise, making it that much harder for the students to excel in science and pursue careers in it.

“Often times, it would involve a lot of finger-spelling and a lot of improvisation,” said Matthew Schwerin, a physicist with the Food and Drug Administration who is Deaf, of his years in school. “For the majority of scientific terms,” Mr. Schwerin and his interpreter for the day would “try to find a correct sign for the term, and if nothing was pre-existing, we would come up with a sign that was agreeable with both parties.” Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/04/science/sign-language-researchers-broaden-science-lexicon.html

Lydia Callis has inspired a tribute Tumblr page: http://lydiacalasface.tumblr.com

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