In the past ten years, products from so many different sources have increased accessibility for students with visual impairments who are learning science and those interested in entering science related fields.
These innovations include the Talking LabQuest, a Vernier data collection device, adapted and sold by Independence Science. Also the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has an incredible number of products to support science teaching! And braille textbooks now come with terrific black raised line drawings.
Making Minor Adaptations to Existing Products
Sometimes minor adaptations to these wonderful products can help the item become even more accessible for some students. The Lab Quest, for example has an on/off button that beeps to indicate when the device is on and beeps in a different way to notify the user that it is off. For some of my students, however, the on/off button was very hard to locate. Placing a raised dot on the button made it so much easier for many students! The dot also increased access for those with vision as the orange was easily seen.
A product from APH, Azer’s Interactive Study Set, dramatically improved my student’s accessibility to chemistry education, as did the periodic table and resource guide http://www.perkinselearning.org/accessible-science/adapting-aph-periodic-table-indicate-major-element-groups. However, as I incorporated the periodic table into my teaching, I found that the accessibility of the table for some students could be greatly improved. By using a tracing wheel to make the raised line outlining each item on the table's columns and rows more distinct. Also many students got “lost” as they moved their hands across the table from hydrogen to helium. Two different methods improved the trip! One was cutting out the center of the table, the other was using Wikki Stix to create a path from one side to the other.
Azer’s set is a wonderful multi-sensory teaching tool, one that would work well for all students learning introductory level chemistry. The kit comes with a wonderful large board and the many symbols can be attached to in varying combinations.
Since I teach groups of 4 to 6 students with visual impairments, I needed more than one board. I found that by adhering Velcro strips to varying sizes of cardboard, each student could create basic molecular configurations and even write out whole chemical reactions using the symbols in the kits. After using the Azer kit to practice, the students learned to write the formulas and reactions readily in braille, or on their computers.
Adapting Tactile Graphics
Tactile graphics in textbooks sometimes need adapting also. For example, in a print biology book, a line graph indicating changes in population of moose and wolves might have one population indicated with a red line and the other with a blue line. This may work well for a student with low vision on a CCTV. However in the braille book the blue line is a dotted line and the red line is a solid line. For many students with limited tactile acuity or inexperience in reading tactile graphics, the lines feel exactly the same! A very simple adaptation is using Wikki Stix to indicate one of the lines. If the other line still appears indistinct to the student, try another material for the other line. Smooth artist’s tape works well for some students. By the way, the Wikki Stix lines and the artist tape line are now accessible to everyone! All the students can identify when the moose population decreased or what other changes occurred over time.
Thoughts About Increasing Accessibility
When thinking about accessibility of teaching materials, often the adaptation that provides the best accessibility for a student who is blind provides accessibility to all.
Please share your stories of creating accessible materials with us!