ERIC Identifier: ED464805
Publication Date: 2001-11-00
Author: Kumar, David D. - Ramasamy, Rangasamy - Stefanich, Greg P.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental
Education Columbus OH.
Science Instruction for Students with Visual Impairments. ERIC
The preponderance of visually oriented and visually complex concepts and
information in science classrooms poses significant challenges to learning among
visually impaired students. Without systematic instructional attention to these
challenges, science may seem inaccessible to many students with visual
impairments. Unfortunately, Stefanich and Norman (1996) found that most science
teachers and college science educators have little or no direct experience in
teaching disabled students and often hold stereotypical views of what students
with disabilities can and cannot do (p. 51). Nevertheless, 69.8% of those
surveyed did not believe that it is unrealistic to expect a blind student to
become a chemist (p. 18). How, then, can teachers help students with visual
impairments reach their potential in science? Here the term "visual impairment"
refers to "an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects
a child's educational performance" (See IDEA's Definition of Disabilities at
://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed429396.html. For "An Overview of the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997" (P.L. 105-17),
please see http://ericec.org/digests/e576.html.).
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE CLASSROOM
Students with visual
impairments have the same range of cognitive abilities as other students, but
instruction typically relies very heavily on vision. To accommodate visually
impaired students, teachers should consider the following suggestions offered by
the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1991), Cetera
(1983), Dubnick (1994), Lunney and Morrison (1981), Smith (1998), Smith,
Polloway, Patton, and Dowdy (1998), Wohlers (1994), Ricker (1981), and Ricker
and Rodgers (1981).
* Translate course syllabi and materials into Braille
and adaptive electronic media.
Allow presentations to be audiotaped.
Encourage direct conversation and speak directly to visually impaired students
in a normal tone of voice.
Refrain from using vague phrases, and be specific when giving directions.
Provide large print copies of written materials for students with partial visual
impairments. As far as possible increase visual contrast of written materials.
Provide a wide range of hands-on learning experiences.
Use real objects so that the student can experience them by touch.
Allow students to explore in their natural environment.
Supply students with tactile diagrams and graphs (by outlining with liquid
Use appropriate scale whenever possible.
Orient visually impaired students by familiarizing them with emergency exits,
chemicals, glassware, equipment, extinguishers, emergency showers, and eye
sprays. This orientation might be best achieved by partnering visually impaired
students with class volunteer s.
Use Braille labels on chemicals and reagent containers.
Keep laboratory aisles cleared, and do not leave doors half-open.
Instruct other students in class to yield the right of way to visually impaired
students whether or not they are using long canes.
Provide ample space for the guide dog, if one is involved, and keep other
students from harassing the dog.
If possible, provide laboratory assistants or class volunteers who are willing
to work with visually impaired students, reading directions or procedures, and
guiding them through activities.
Provide assistive technologies whenever possible. Examples of assistive
technologies recommended by AAAS (1991) include talking thermometers,
voltmeters, timers and calculators, glassware with embossed numbers, sandpaper
labeling for poisonous chemicals, and computers with voice or Braille output.
Light probes and special adapters that transform visual and digital signals into
audio outputs are also suitable for assisting visually impaired student in
science laboratory settings. For more ideas regarding use of assistive
technologies, from Braille generating software, scanners, Braille printers and
embossers, screen-reader software, speech synthesizers, and closed circuit
television, see Kumar, Ramasamy, and Stefanich (2001).
"Physical Science". Wagner (1995b)
described how to prepare tactile measuring tools for visually impaired students
by photocopying sections of a meter scale onto transparencies, and pasting the
cut sections into a meter long scale, and using staples or glue to emboss each
centimeter marking. Here is a procedure for determining mass using a modified
lever balance (cited in Carin, 1993): Cut out the bottom of the two pans of a
lever balance making rings suitable for holding paper or plastic cups. Add a
tactile balance indicator. Materials to be weighed automatically center in the
cups, thus reducing discrepancies caused by relative positioning. Also,
substances weighed can be kept in the cups, an added convenience in transferring
materials. This modified balance could be used to verify that the mass of 50 ml
of water is approximately 50 grams, and to understand the relationship between
mass, volume and density of water.
"Chemistry". Wohlers (1994) has suggested that computer interfaced
instrumentation provides tools for mass-volume measurements, and talking
calculators facilitate calculations. Qualitative identifications of certain
non-hazardous materials could be made using the sense of smell (Keller, Jr.,
1981). Chemical reactions involving colors can be identified using a colorimeter
interfaced with a computer programmed to convert color signals into Braille
outputs. Also, light probes interfaced with Braille computers can be used as
detectors for determining end-points in volumetric analyses. Similarly, modified
ultra-violet and infrared spectrophotometers can be used for chemical
"Biology". Tactile modifications of preserved specimens and humanely prepared
living organisms (e. g., live Cray fish with rubber tubing carefully placed over
their pincers) could form excellent hands-on specimens in biology (Malone &
DeLucchi, 1979). Ricker and Rodgers (1981) suggested modifying chromosome kits
with "pop-it beads" using readily available tactile markers for teaching cell
division. The suggested tactile markers include small plastic strips of various
sizes and shapes to represent color codes, and holes to represent relative
positions of chromosomes. Abruscato (1996) recommended the following activity to
enable students with visual impairments to observe fish in an aquarium: Place
inside the aquarium a slightly smaller plastic aquarium with drilled-in holes
which functions like a sieve. As the student slowly lifts the inner aquarium and
drains off the water into the larger aquarium, the fish will be trapped in the
bottom of the inner aquarium. Now by the sense of touch the student can explore
the fish. Supervision might be required in order to make sure fish are properly
OVER THE LONGER TERM
According to the Working Conference on
Science for Persons with Disabilities (Egelston-Dodd, 1995) "science faculties
tend to be uninformed and often lacking in willingness to make accommodations
for students with disabilities" (p. 95), and teacher education programs fail to
provide field experiences in teaching students with disabilities. Both inservice
and preservice teachers must become aware of the needs of students with visual
as well as other disabilities (Lang, 1983; Stefanich & Norman, 1996).
Prospective science teachers must become skilled in using resource materials and
adaptive technologies that facilitate the accommodation of visually impaired
Abruscato, J. (1996). "Teaching children
science: A discovery approach." Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1991). "Laboratories
and classrooms in science and engineering." Washington, DC: Author. [ED 373 997]
Carin, A. A. (1993). "Teaching science through discovery." New York: Merrill.
Cetera, M. M. (1983). Laboratory adaptations for visually impaired students.
Thirty years in review. "Journal of College Science Teaching," 12, 384-393. [EJ
Dubnick, M. (1994). Response to David Wohlers' presentation: "The
visually-impaired student in chemistry." Access to scientific data by persons
with visual disabilities. In Egelston-Dodd, J. (Ed.), "A future agenda:
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Keller, Jr., E. C. (1981). Marine science program. "Journal of Visual
Impairment and Blindness," 75(9), 379.
Kumar, D. D., Ramasamy, R., & Stefanich, G. P. (2001). Science for
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with disabilities: Experiences and perceptions of classroom teachers and science
educators." A special publication of the Association for the Education of
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visually impaired. In Egelston-Dodd, J. (ed.), "Improving science instruction
for students with disabilities: Proceedings of a working conference on science
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52-64 WEB RESOURCES
Strategies for Teaching Students With Visual Impairments
Science Educational Information and Students With Print Disabilities
American Foundation for the Blind: http://www.afb.org
National Federation of the Blind: http://www.nfb.org
American Council of the Blind: http://www.acb.org
National Association for Visually Handicapped http://www.navh.org
Blindness Resource Center: http://www.nyise.org/blind.htm