Equal Access: Science and Students with Sensory Impairments

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Ensuring the engagement of all students

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D

Typical science presentations, curricula, and labs are not fully accessible to students with visual or hearing impairments. Instructors can ensure that these students have access to all of the content and experiences offered in science classes by

Universal Design

Universal design has been defined as "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." (www.ncsu.edu/project/design-projects/udi/center-foruniversal-design/the-principles-of-universal-design) Universal Design can be applied to

For more information about universal design of instruction, consult Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction at www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/instruction.html.


Academic accommodations can make learning opportunities accessible to students with disabilities. The best accommodations result when teachers, students, and support staff work together in a creative, resourceful, collaborative way. Examples of commonly used accommodations for students with sensory impairments follow (Burgstahler, 2006, p. 47).

Low Vision


Hearing Impairments

One Science Teacher's Experiences

A high school science teacher who worked at a school for students with visual impairments drew on his experience to make the following recommendations to teachers who have a student who is blind in their science class (Burgstahler, 2006, p. 42; Burgstahler & Nourse (Eds.), 1998, pp. 63-64):

Below are some specific examples of how you might accommodate students who are blind in a science classroom:

These examples demonstrate that inexpensive supplies used creatively plus a commitment to the full participation of all students can make the experiences of a student who is blind in your class a positive one.

Listen to the Experts

People with sensory impairments share with science teachers the following suggestions for working with students like themselves (Burgstahler, 2006, pp. 44-45; Burgstahler & Nourse, 1998, pp. i-ii).


The content of this handout has been replicated in other DO-IT publications that include:

Burgstahler, S. (Ed.) (2006). Making Math, Science, and Technology Instruction Accessible to Students with Disabilities. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington. www.uw.edu/doit/MathSci/

Burgstahler, S., & Nourse, S. (Eds.) (1998). Accommodating students with disabilities in math and science classes. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington.

Additional Resources

An electronic copy of the most current version of this publication as well as additional useful DO-IT brochures can be found at www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/.

A 10-minute video, Equal Access: Science and Students with Sensory Impairments, demonstrates key points summarized in this publication. It may be freely viewed at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/ea_sci_sensory.html or purchased in DVD format. Consult www.uw.edu/doit/Video/ to view other videos that may be of interest.

For more information about applications of universal design consult www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/udesign.html or The Center for Universal Design in Education at www.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/. The book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice published by Harvard Education Press shares perspectives of UD leaders nationwide. To receive a 20% discount, visit www.uw.edu/doit/UDHE/coupon.html.

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

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Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9550003 and Cooperative Agreement No. HRD-0227995. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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