By making science outreach more accessible, to share our love for research with people from the Deaf and Blind communities, we learnt to communicate more effectively, and gained new appreciation for people in these communities.
Last month, the research students and staff at Single Molecule Science (SMS) hosted an interactive science expo designed to engage audiences with multisensory exhibits. Before the discovery sessions, Richard Morris broke the ice with a brief introduction into medical research peppered with interesting facts including how many cells are in the body and how long is the DNA in our cells if we unravel it. Then our special guest David Choi, a young Deafblind artist from New Zealand, gave our audience his perspectives on science and technology and shared with us his extraordinarily artwork entitled “Brain Tree” that depicts the five senses. We will proudly hang this thoughtful and intricate piece on our walls at SMS.
There were plenty of tactile displays and hands-on activities created to communicate our research in different exhibits championed by Jesse Goyette who led the organising committee. To take audiences with vision impairments through a typical experiment in the laboratory, one team recorded the sounds produced by equipment at different steps of isolating and analysing proteins. They even reproduced some of the smells a researcher would encounter during this process. Another team created a giant replica of the cell culture system they use to study how cells sense fine touch—like the hair cells in our ears. This interactive model had flashing LED lights to indicate electrical messages transmitted through the cell when touched.
The sense of community amongst our visitors was very strong. There were high fives and warm greetings between the different groups as they arrived, including students, mature learners, teachers and interpreters.
Among the over 100 visitors who attended our interactive science expo were clients and affiliates of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and Vision Australia, as well as a Deaf Learners group, and student groups from the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, and hearing support units from schools around Sydney. The audience was engaged, excited, appreciative and very curious. Teachers were also eager to explore the materials and activities, and keen to incorporate some to the ideas into their science classrooms in the future.
To bridge the accessibility gap for our Deaf attendees, interpreters from the Deaf Society played a vital role at this inclusive event. We were all very impressed with their professional attitude and in awe of their rapid response communications skills.
It was clear from the zest we could see that people living with a hearing or vision impairment (or even both) can be just as curious as the rest of us about science and how the world around us works. And learning to communicate scientific discoveries using tactile models, artistic representation and creativity—rather than the 2D posters and Powerpoint presentations that scientists are used to—was a fun challenge that our researchers embraced. Inclusive scientific events benefit everyone involved.
The reality is that developing and holding accessible events has added financial demands. The displays models and activities were all designed by research staff and students who volunteered their time and efforts to create and present the discovery sessions. We are thankful for other research teams from the School of Medical Sciences, including from the teams led by Professor Nick Di Girolamo and Professor Gary Housley, and members of the Museum of Human Disease who joined us to create exhibits at our expo. Many other volunteers from SMS pitched in to help the day run smoothly. Thank you to everyone who helped out from designing (thanks Jess Richardson) and painting T shirts ahead of the event, to sundry duties on the day.
We are grateful for the generous sponsorship from the UNSW Division of Equity Diversity and Inclusion; the ARC Centre for Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging; and the UNSW School of Medical Sciences.
Thanks must also go to the Accessibility Ambassadors who are student volunteers recruited from UNSW’s Disability Services Unit who helped groups of visitors navigate between the different stations.
Thank you to the wonderful audience who attended.
Dr Jesse Goyette, Senior Lecturer and SMS Group Leader
Dr Sue Min Liu, SMS Communications Officer
Dr David Jacques, Senior Lecturer and SMS Group Leader
Dr Rom Bouveret, SMS Business Strategy Manager