Reducing Language Obstacles Deaf Students Face When Developing Scientific Competencies

ID: 4105
School: School of Language, Education, and Culture
Program: American Sign Language
Status: Ongoing
Start date: February 2021
End Date: December 2021


People who identify as Deaf or Hard of Hearing (Deaf/HoH) are highly underrepresented in research. (1) For example, only 1.3% of the 39,435 doctorates awarded in 2017 went to people who were Deaf/HoH. (2,3) Moreover, only 40% of Deaf/HoH adults earned doctorates in life sciences, physical sciences, or engineering compared to 78% of hearing individuals. (4) This Momentum Fund Teaming seeks to address this disparity by bringing together for the first time experts in Deaf studies, artificial intelligence, communication science, and biomedical informatics. Our team includes faculty from the School of Medicine (SOM: Boyce), School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (HRS: Pratt), School of Computing and Information (SCI: Alikhani), and co-investigator from the Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University (GU: Kenneth De Haan). This project proposal is the result of a collaboration that began three years ago with the goal of increasing the inclusion of Deaf/HoH students in biomedical science education at the University of Pittsburgh. Deaf/HoH students face significant obstacles to advancing in STEM including issues in accommodations, self-advocacy, and establishment of a support system.4–6 The degree to which these obstacles present insurmountable barriers varies greatly. This is because the Deaf/HoH are highly diverse in many respects, including the etiology of deafness, possible benefits of auditory interventions, necessary exposure and acquisition to ASL and English, and access to accommodations. (4) Our Momentum Fund Teaming project will develop and test a novel technology that supports Deaf/HoH students while learning biomedical topics using material available on the internet including educational videos, scientific articles, and websites. We hypothesize that interactively linking highly visual material to specific terms and phrases in existing online learning materials will improve students’ topic comprehension. Our long-term goal is to develop a scalable technological intervention that is effective at reducing the language barriers Deaf/HoH students face when developing scientific competencies. The basis for the intervention will be a novel combination of methods from Deaf studies, communication sciences, multimodal learning, artificial intelligence, and computational linguistics.

Principal investigators

Additional investigators

  • Alikhani, Malihe • School of Science and technology • University of Pittsburgh
  • Boone, David • UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy • University of Pittsburgh
  • Pratt, Sheila • school of health and rehabilitation sciences • University of Pittsburgh

Priorities addressed

Funding sources

Approved Products


Boyce, R., DeHaan, K., Pratt, S., Alikhani, M., & Boone, D. (2021). Reducing Language Obstacles Deaf Students Face When Developing Scientific Competencies.