Signing Glossaries for Science Exhibits

Researched and developed six separate glossaries to provide visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing access to exhibit content.

Lead Staff:
Judy Vesel
Project Staff:
Tara Robillard


Deaf and hard of hearing children typically have literacy levels that lag behind those of their hearing peers, making access to captions, labels, instructions, and information difficult. This, in combination with a lack of interpreters, to sign material for them and parents who often do not have a robust signed technical vocabulary make visits to museums a low priority. The Signing Science Glossaries for Science Exhibits help bridge these gaps by enabling on-the-fly access to the signed vocabulary families are likely to encounter during their museum visits. The glossary apps are six venue-specific signing glossaries researched and developed for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, age 5 and above, who visit informal learning venues.

Each glossary provides access to thousands of signed terms and definitions specifically for aquariums, botanical gardens, natural history museums, nature centers, science museums, and zoos. There are numerous ways people interact with glossary apps to enrich their museum visits. People select terms from lists or type them into a search box, see an Avatar character sign the term and its definition, listen to a human voice speaking the English text, open and close an illustration with a single click, and play or replay the term over and over.

Research Activity

The research should reveal how this approach might benefit those with other types of disabilities. The research questions are designed to understand both how family members might interact with a hearing disabled family member as well as how the disabled individual might learn more about a variety of STEM content in a setting that is not domain specific but uses the influence of science exhibits to inform, engage and interest members of the public generally.


The words of a parent who has used the glossaries during visits is a testament to the value they add to the experience: “We are most impressed at the versatility of the glossaries. Our daughter loves visiting all of these places, but we often avoided them because we were unsure what value they’d have without the rich explanations we were able to give to our boys, who are both hearings. The glossaries enriched not only her experience but ours as well by helping us to feel more connected to her during visits. Sometimes as a hearing parent of a child who is deaf, you feel ill-equipped to provide your child with the best educational support. This is particularly true when it comes to science and math. Our experiences have all been positive, regardless of the type of museum we are visiting.”


Signing Glossaries Video Image Signing Glossaries for Science Exhibits

Hands On! Article

Glossary Apps for Signing Science Exhibits

Feature // By Judy Vesel & Tara Robillard Photo Read More

Download the Apps

Apps available free through Apple’s App Store (for iPhones, iPads, and iPods):

Apps available free through Google’s Play Store (for Android devices, including phones, tablets, and other devices running Android OS 4.1 or later):