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Sign language science interpreter headlines keynote talks Friday

by Eric Gorton

Conveying technical research information that makes sense to lay audiences can be a challenge. That challenge is even greater when the audience includes people who are deaf and hard of hearing, as sign language doesn’t always have the words to describe technical terms.

Lauren Hughes, who serves as director of operations at Civic Access, a deaf, woman-owned social media enterprise, will discuss those challenges at 9-10 a.m. Friday, July 30 in ISAT/CS Room 159 on the James Madison University campus east of Interstate 81.

Hughes earned her bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language from Liberty University in 2018, but in 2017 she served as a sign language interpreter for JMU’s summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program in chemistry, which has included deaf and hard-of-hearing students and faculty for 20 years.

In her talk Friday, titled, “Access Allies – Promoting and Defending Equity in a Virtual Age,” Hughes will discuss the importance and impact of people’s choices to make research content accessible. Topics will include how COVID launched a major shift in access demands, different types of communication access and the meaning of “effective” communication access.

The theme of communication access will continue from 11 a.m.-noon when JMU alumna Jessi Shott, account coordinator at Verge Scientific Communications, a boutique public relations firm specializing in the health and biotechnology sectors, discusses her path from scientist to science communicator.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from JMU in 2015, Shott went on to get master’s degrees in chemistry from both the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and The George Washington University.

During her time in school, she conducted research in inorganic, organic and materials chemistry and cultivated a love for science communication.

Shott said she is passionate about finding creative ways to make science accessible to all audiences and firmly believes anyone can be a chemist.

Between the talks, students from this summer’s chemistry REU program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, will present their research. This year’s program consisted of 56 students, including three who are deaf or hard-of-hearing; and 22 faculty, including one who is deaf, Dr. Debo Ogunjirin of Gallaudet University.

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Media contact: Mary-Hope Vass,

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Published: Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 3, 2023

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