Sign language for computing terms

By Ronnie Kerr. Posted

One of the created signs

Originally published in Hello World Issue 19: Sustainability and Computing, June 2022. All information true at the time of original publishing.

A team in Scotland, UK, has developed a British Sign Language glossary for computing terms that aims to widen tech access

Experts at The University of Edinburgh have helped produce a British Sign Language (BSL) glossary for deaf people engaged in digital technology. They are part of a team that has created more than 500 signs covering computer science, cybersecurity, data science, and software development. The glossary aims to help the deaf community in schools, colleges, universities, and workplaces access qualifications and careers in tech.


A UK-wide team of eight deaf people who are also tech experts spent eight months with sign linguists developing and testing the new signs for the glossary. Team member Ben Fletcher, principal engineer with the Financial Times, says it is important to create a common language for deaf people in tech: “I have studied and worked in computing throughout my whole life, but tech and BSL have often been a difficult combination. There’s a huge list of computing terms, very few of which have dedicated and widely recognised signs, and others I just had to make up. It was very frustrating.”

Before the glossary was launched, deaf people often had to spell out each individual letter of the specialised terms they were using. Popular tech words and phrases now covered include ethical hacking, firewall, data breach, machine learning, and phishing. Secondary pupil Billy-Jack Gerrard, who attends St Augustine’s R.C. High School in Edinburgh, is deaf and wants to study AI and computer science at university: “The terms will make life so much easier and, in turn, be far more inclusive for deaf people like me who are wanting to pursue a digital career.”

Skills gap

Head of Digital Technologies and Financial Services at Skills Development Scotland, Phil Ford, adds, “This will help deaf people get jobs in tech while also enhancing inclusivity — all with the ultimate aim of plugging the skills gap in a sector that is vital for Scotland’s economy.”

You can find the complete list of signs on the Scottish Sensory Centre website. Kate Farrell of the Data Education in Schools initiative is keen to keep adding to the list, and told us, “Like the technology itself, which is constantly changing, the accompanying language has to evolve — we therefore welcome continued input from technologists.”

The new BSL lexicon is backed by government agency Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Sensory Centre, based in Edinburgh.


Free - UK only

If you’re a UK-based teacher, volunteer, librarian or something in between, we'll send each issue free to your door.



Just want to read the free PDF? Get each new issue delivered straight to your inbox. No fuss and no spam.


From £6

If you’re not a UK-based educator, you can buy print copies from our store.