The Signing Science Dictionary Project: A Promising Practice in Creating an Accessible Science Dictionary

Printable Version

Recognizing that cost and time often preclude one-by-one signing of even the most widely used instructional materials TERC, a not-for-profit education research and development organization, partnered with Vcom3D, the developer of the SigningAvatar accessibility software, to create the Signing Science Dictionary (SSD).

Funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation's Research in Disabilities Education (RDE) program, the SSD uses the SigningAvatar accessibility software to provide an illustrated, interactive, three dimensional (3D) sign language dictionary of science terms and definitions. The goals for developing this product were to further the understanding of science content, foster an interest in science, and promote the ability of students who are deaf or hard of hearing to study independently. The directors wanted a product that could be readily used by elementary and middle school students whose first language is sign.

The SSD can help students read about, investigate, and discuss science. The SSD offers students, teachers, and parents a searchable library of recognized signs for studying scientific ideas. In addition, SSD allows users to select an Avatar from a range of characters with different personalities and facial expressions, alter the speed at which the Avatar signs, and choose to have a selected term and its definition signed in American Sign Language (ASL) or Signed English (SE).

The SSD is a promising practice of two organizations working together to create an interactive dictionary that allows students who are deaf or hard of hearing to access science terms and definitions in their first language - sign. With SSD students can interact with new science terms and ideas without the need for an in-person sign language interpreter, thereby promoting independence and access to science for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Note: The web-based version of the SSD requires a Windows, Vista, or XP Operating System, Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher, and the SigningAvatar plug-in. Macinshosh users must have VM Ware [7] or Parallels [8] installed to see the Avatar sign. The Web-based version of the SSD is available for free at The plug-in is also free and available at An app-version of the SSD is available from iTunes and can be used with iPads, iPods, and tablets. More information about the SSD app and purchasing it from iTunes is available at

This article was developed through the RDE Collaborative Dissemination Project (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0929006) and Signing High School Science (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-1019542).

Last update or review: March 24, 2014