Sign Language – Signing My Life Away

I’ve always been in awe of all forms of sign language. At a conference for blind people, I experienced a deaf-blind speaker deftly take questions signed on to his hand, and fluidly respond. A Welsh deaf scientist recently invented logical signs for common elements in the periodic table. 

Yet my British Sign Language teacher could happily go out and mow a lawn by the time I’ve almost managed to sign my name. No hand-eye co-ordination.

So, it’s fascinating to see how deaf charities and patient groups are starting to embed sign language videos into websites.

Action on Hearing Loss

Clearly, it’s not hugely economic or practical to embed signing videos to convey a website’s full content. But the invitation from the UK charity Action on Hearing Loss to click on a box to “Watch this page in British Sign Language”, brings up a signer and captions which exactly match the content of the webpage.

As with learning any language, exposure to new vocabulary is key. Also, there seems to be no compromise made for the written content of the website, and the structure of its sentences. It seems to send some clear messages: 

  • including signing is the right thing for organisations to do
  • don’t simplify the content for signing
  • don’t shy away from complex sentence structures – show it as it is.

Perhaps the future is like the website from the Swedish Education Department’s National Agency for Special Needs Education (Specialpedagogiska skolmyndigheten). On this site, pages with signing videos available are marked with a special sign language icon (Svenskt teckenspråk).  

Online U.S. signing dictionary

Medicine requires a lot of specialist vocabulary, so it was good to find the Handspeak site run by donation by a teacher of American Sign Language.

You can pull up videos of the teacher signing specific words like an online dictionary. For example, you can:

  • find a selection of medical terms by clicking on the health category, including diseases, symptoms and treatments
  • search by typing in an American word
  • ‘reverse search’ by selecting a verbal description of a sign in a category.

Crucially you can slow the video down to practise each sign.

Spread the sign

The not-for-profit site Spread the sign, is truly remarkable. They are attempting to build video dictionaries of sign languages from right across the world; it currently has around 38 different types of sign language, from Japan to Poland, and from China to Brazil.  

Again, you are able to search within a ‘health and medicine’ category to bring up vocabulary relevant for patients. The site also enables you to click on flags to see how a specific medical term varies in sign language in different countries.


See the ‘signed’ page from UK charity Action on Hearing Loss at…

Click here

Explore the health section of an online American Sign Language Dictionary at…

Click here

Compare sign languages from across the world at…

Click here

See a Swedish sign language video integrated into an example webpage at…

Click here

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