With all of these sign languages, one would think that deaf and hard of hearing people would be welcome and thriving in areas such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), but it turns out that industry and our educational institutions have a long way to go in terms of supporting even the most basic of deaf and hard of hearing employees’ and students’ needs.
In 2018, Braun et al published a study entitled, “Welcoming Deaf Students into STEM: Recommendations for University Science Education” in The American Society for Cell Biology’s Life Sciences Education journal. In the article, they follow a hypothetical deaf student, Emily, as she navigates her STEM major and describe the challenges that she will most certainly face, supported by empirical evidence in published literature. (Fun fact: 8 of the 10 coauthors of this article are deaf, with a combined 101 years of experience in teaching and mentoring deaf students in higher education! Talk about not only inclusion, but having a real seat at the table.) In this article, the coauthors conclude that deaf individuals have made many contributions to science and technology throughout history, but deaf students like Emily often feel unwelcome in the hearing (ie, non-deaf people) STEM community and often have to work harder than their hearing peers to achieve similar opportunities. Culturally sensitive faculty who are willing to advocate on their behalf can be hard to come by in post-secondary settings, and it can be difficult to find networking opportunities and research experiences for deaf students. The article gives a host of recommendations, broken up in easy-to-read tables with real-life examples of communicated preconceptions, explanations about why these preconceptions are problematic, and positive actions that faculty can take to make students feel welcome. Importantly, this article underscores the lack of support that many deaf and hard of hearing students face: not having access to individualized accommodations, putting extra time into meeting with interpreters outside of class settings and difficulty finding interpreters who are well-versed in STEM topics, and not having the same access to networking opportunities in order to conduct required research for their degrees.