Adapting Dissection for Students with Visual Impairments

Dissection is a much loved or much hated lab activity depending on which student you ask.  Students with visual impairment will face barriers to experiencing the same benefit from dissection that other students receive.  Our goal as TVIs, however, should be to make the experience as meaningful as possible.  The first student that I worked with on dissection had no usable vision, but was more excited than most of the general education class to dissect.  The following simple suggestions will make dissection a more valuable experience for a student with a visual impairment.
 

Before the dissection

Prior to the dissection, the student should become completely familiar with the structures that will be part of the dissection.  These structures will, of course, depend on what is being dissected.  If at all possible, I would recommend allotting an extra 30 minutes to an hour of instruction prior to the dissection toward this end.  The more familiar the student is with the structures prior to the dissection, the more interesting the dissection will be.  
 
In addition, the more familiar the TVI is with the dissection, the better able he/she will be to properly describe it.  To this end, watch a video on the particular dissection to be performed so as to familiarize yourself with it.   
 
For some dissection, it may be possible to request a larger specimen for the student with a visual impairment.  For instance, I purchase bull frogs for my students when they perform dissections as they are larger than the frogs normally dissected in high school
 
For students with blindness:  
  • Assist the student as necessary with the tactile diagrams.  If possible, obtain a model.  There are many good models available from Flinn Scientific (www.flinnsci.com) and Frey Scientific (www.freyscientific.com).  
  • Depending on the student’s ability with tactile diagrams, he may be able to familiarize himself with the structures with little assistance or may need considerable assistance.  Informally assess his knowledge of the structures to be dissected.   
For students with low vision:
  • Provide the students with diagrams, as necessary, with the proper size, contrast and color scheme for the student.  Work with the student as necessary as he studies the diagram as necessary.  Informally assess his knowledge of the structures to be dissected.   
 

During the dissection

Much description will be necessary, and thus plan to attend and assist in class for each day that dissection is on the agenda.  Let the instructor know that you will be assisting so that seating can be properly arranged for you.  
 
Tips:
  • Tape back the student’s gloves on each finger.  This allows the student to feel the specimen through one layer of the glove rather than it bunching up on his/her fingers.  
  • Assist as is prudent with any sharp tools (scalpel, scissors, dissecting pins, etc).  Student should be encouraged to use the probes and assisted to find structures.  
  • For students with low vision, use CCTV or other method of magnification when they are available.  CCTVs can be moved from another classroom in the building if they are available. 
 

After the dissection

The student should, of course, be expected to help clean up and either discard or properly store the specimen as per the teacher’s instructions.  
 
After the dissection, discuss the structures that were dissected.  What did the student learn?  Discuss the dissection with the student. What went well?  What was frustrating?
 
dissection collage
 
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