RIT scientists receive grant to expand work on a sign language lexicon for chemistry | RIT

A team of scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology will expand its work after receiving a large grant from the National Science Foundation to make chemistry more accessible for students who rely on American Sign Language interpreters in class.

Christina Goudreau Collison, professor in the School of Chemistry and Materials Science; Jennifer Swartzenberg, senior lecturer in the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s Department of Science and Mathematics; Lea Michel, professor in the School of Chemistry and Materials Science; and Pepsi Holmquist, visiting assistant professor in NTID’s Department of Science and Mathematics, have been awarded nearly $380,000 for their proposal to transform chemistry for deaf and hard-of-hearing students via the design, implementation, and evaluation of a descriptive sign language lexicon.

The work started years ago when Swartzenberg was learning ASL. When she visited classrooms, she noticed that interpreters had to do a lot of fingerspelling to communicate technical terms. Upon further investigation, Swartzenberg realized that deaf students’ grades were lower than the hearing students’, indicating a language barrier. Swartzenberg had taken Goudreau Collison’s classes in the past and was familiar with how she used body movements to help explain terms. The pair decided to work together to find a solution.

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