ISS communicating in sign language

ISS communicating in sign language
Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson answered several questions using ASL, American Sign Language.

Tracy Caldwell Dyson - ISS - NASA
American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, photographed here in the Cupola observation post, used sign language from the International Space Station (see the video further down this page).
Credit: NASA

As its name indicates, the International Space Station associates many countries: the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and a number of European nations via the ESA (European Space Agency). The number of languages spoken on board is already quite high, although English and Russian tend to dominate on a daily basis. Sign language was recently used for the first time by American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson who was communicating with all the people in her country who are hard of hearing; she also answered their questions.

Desire for opportunity
To be exact, Tracy Caldwell Dyson used ASL (American Sign Language), the main sign language in the United States. Studies indicate that the number of users could go from 500,000 up to 2 million, which according to NASA’s press release makes it the country’s fourth most used language. The astronaut masters ASL because one of her class mates was deaf and not because a member of her family suffers from severe deafness (which is usually why people with normal hearing learn a sign language). She later perfected the technique in order to help a colleague with whom she was studying chemistry. With this discourse in ASL that lasted almost six minutes, Tracy Caldwell Dyson has made a gesture of opportunity and shown that NASA is also in touch with people suffering from severe deafness (see the video below).

The astronaut wanted to make the general public more aware of the practical difficulties encountered by deaf students. For example, they have to take notes or read the course book whilst at the same time watching their sign language interpreter, with their eyes permanently going backwards and forwards, whereas students with normal hearing can listen to their teachers whilst reading and writing without having to look at them. Tracy Caldwell Dyson also said in ASL: “One thing I learnt was that deaf people can do everything (…). Maybe some day you can fly into space and live on  the ISS”.
Keith Cowing, editor of the NASA Watch website, commented that although communicating in sign language was a first for the ISS, it was not for the astronautical field. And he cited the example of Bill Readdy who recorded a message in ASL during the STS-42 mission (space shuttle Discovery in January 1992). See the video below.

It is also worthy of note that the Cité de l’Espace, the space adventure theme park in Toulouse, in the south of France, has, since it opened, set up a policy aiming to welcome disabled people, and obviously those who are hard of hearing, in the best possible way. The different areas of the park are, for example, equipped with magnetic induction loops (reception via headsets) and the Cité de l’espace provides translation of certain events or conferences.

Published on 27 July



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