Introducing PANCAKE: Plants And Nature Conveying Augmented Knowledge for Everyone

The world of plants – a silent world rich in the senses of touch, smell and sight

How would you describe your favourite tree without the use of the spoken language?

There is an incredible diversity of plants around us but sign languages in many countries lack official signs for nature related terms. In the same way that international flora enthusiasts and researchers use Botanical Latin (as in Quercus ilex – see  photo) to describe a species the PANCAKE Project aims to do the same by creating a common sign to be understood by different nationalities.

Friends of the Earth (Malta) is currently coordinating a 3 year ERASMUS+ Project with 5 partners from Malta, Spain, Italy and UK bringing together associations of the deaf and nature organisations with the support of an interactive content sharing online platform.

In Europe there are an estimated 70 million citizens with some form of hearing impairment, but specific materials for the identification of plants is lacking in sign language. Il-Lingwa Tas-Sinjali Maltija or Maltese Sign Language (LSM) is the language of the Maltese Deaf Community and has been an official language of Malta since 2016.

The aim of the Project is to improve the inclusion of the Deaf community in accessing nature, augment knowledge about flora and design inclusive public spaces through 5 innovative actions. These will include the enhancement of five national sign languages by creating a “sign” for plants which are found in the four countries, creating videos to learn the new “signs” and short sign language documentaries, a manual of best architectural practices for inclusion and accessibility in public spaces and the adaptation of the material into online interactive content for dissemination.

The traditional hut serving as a visitor centre for the Riet Vell Reserve at the Delta de l’Ebre is managed by the ornithological association SEO/BirdLife.

The first Transnational meeting was delayed by Covid but after many online meetings all participants finally met in the Ebro Delta in Spain this November. Thanks go to the lovely hosts from SEO (BirdLife Spain) for inspiring us by sharing their passion for this prime wetland protected area with its rich range of habitats and incredible biodiversity. Visits to two nature reserves were important not only to help us immerse ourselves in nature but also to create discussion on site about how to make such places more accessible to all.

Interpreting the project logo in sign language.

Working in teams, plant experts got together with deaf people and their interpreters to focus on a list of 20 European plants selected during previous online collaborations. The dynamic of this creative process is both unique and mindful as one realises that there is so much richness and presence in the communication of sign language. Rather than just describing the plants’ physical characteristics in a scientific way some plants seem to evoke different memories and feelings associated with them thus bringing them to life and closer to ourselves.

Further links:

A glimpse of the meeting in Spain: https://youtu.be/desc6HYhSgE

The online Maltese Sign Language Dictionary: https://mlrs.research.um.edu.mt/resources/lsm

Photos and text by Annalise Falzon.