TEACHING LAB COURSES TO STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIESSheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D.
Assistant Director, Information Systems
Computing & Communications
University of Washington
4545 15th Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98105
As scientific fields make increasing use of technology, new opportunities emerge for people with a variety of abilities. When students with disabilities and science teachers form learning partnerships, the possibilities for academic and career success multiply. Some students with disabilities have conditions that are invisible; some are visible. Their challenges include gaining knowledge and demonstrating knowledge. In most cases, it takes just a little creativity, patience, and common sense to make it possible for everyone to learn and contribute.
Below I have summarized some examples of alternative arrangements that can be made. They come from participants in the DO-IT project at the University of Washington. DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation. It makes extensive use of computers, adaptive technology and the Internet to increase the successful participation of people with disabilities in academic programs and careers in science, engineering, and mathematics.
Gaining KnowledgeMany students with disabilities face challenges to gaining knowledge. Examples of specific challenges and accommodations follow.
- For the student who has difficulty reading standard text or
graphics due to a visual impairment, materials can be
provided in large print or Braille, on tape, or via computer
and tactile drawings. Access to adaptive technology that
provides enlarged, voice, and/or Braille output can be
- If seeing material on a blackboard or overhead projector due
to a visual impairment is a challenge, a student may use
binoculars and the instructor can be sure to verbalize the
content of all visually displayed materials.
- For the student who cannot read output from standard science
equipment because of a visual impairment, try interfacing lab
equipment with computer and providing large print and/or
speech output. Also, mark scientific equipment with Braille
and large print labels can be helpful as well.
- If hearing presentations and instructions is a challenge, a
student can use an FM system, interpreter, and/or printed
materials. An instructor can help by facing a student who is
lip reading and writing important points on an overhead
projector or blackboard.
- If a student cannot hear multimedia and videotaped
presentations, captioned presentations and/or an interpreter
can be provided.
- When understanding concepts due to a specific learning
disability is a challenge, visual, aural, and tactile
demonstrations incorporated into instruction can be helpful.
- If a student has difficulty reading because of specific
learning disability, providing extra time and access to
materials via a computer equipped with speech and large print
output can sometimes be helpful. Internet access with a
system like this can also be an important resource.
- For a student who has difficulty taking notes in class
because of a mobility or visual impairment, use of a portable
computer system with word processing and adaptive technology
can allow independent note-taking.
- A student who cannot operate lab equipment and conduct lab
experiments due to a mobility impairment can benefit from an
accessible lab facility and adjustable-height tables. A lab
partner or scribe can facilitate participation. In addition,
computer-controlled lab equipment with alternative input
devices (e.g., speech, Morse code, alternative keyboard) and
modified scientific equipment can provide access.
- For the student who cannot complete an assignment or lab on
time because of a health impairment, flexible scheduling
arrangements allow completion of work.
- For the student who has difficulty completing research because of a disability, access to research materials on the Internet can be helpful.
Demonstrating KnowledgeSome student with disabilities cannot demonstrate mastery of a subject by writing, speaking, or by working through a problem in a lab. Many of the accommodations for gaining knowledge can help the student demonstrate mastery of a subject as well. Examples of other accommodations follow.
- For the student who has difficulty completing and submitting
worksheets and tests because of a visual impairment and/or a
specific learning disability, instructors can provide
worksheets and tests in large print or Braille, on tape, or
via computer. Access to adaptive technology that provides
enlarged, voice and /or Braille as well as standard print
output can maximize student independence.
- If completing a test or assignment on time because of a
disability that affects the speed at which it can be
completed is a problem, extra time or alternative testing
arrangements can provide an appropriate accommodation.
- If a student cannot complete a test or assignment because of an inability to write, in-class access to a computer with alternative input devices (e.g., Morse code, speech, alternative keyboard) can help that student submit work independently.