Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities

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Engaging students with disabilities in science

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

As scientific fields make increasing use of technology, new opportunities emerge for people with a broad range of abilities and disabilities. 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. Since each person's situation is unique, the best solutions for maximizing participation come about when the student and teacher work together to develop creative alternatives for challenges faced by students with disabilities. Such 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.

Gaining Knowledge

Many students with disabilities face challenges to gaining knowledge. Examples of specific challenges and accommodations follow.

The student who has difficulty: reading standard text or viewing graphic images due to visual impairments
can be accommodated with: materials in large print or Braille, on tape, or via computer; enlarged or tactile drawings; access to assistive technology that provides enlarged, voice, or Braille output.

The student who has difficulty: seeing materials on blackboard or overhead projector due to visual impairments
can be accommodated with: binoculars; verbalization of the content and oral descriptions of all visually displayed materials.

The student who has difficulty: reading output from standard equipment because of a visual impairment
can be accommodated with: interfacing lab equipment with computer and providing large print or speech output; scientific equipment with Braille and large print markings.

The student who has difficulty: hearing presentations and instructions due to hearing impairments
can be accommodated with: FM system; interpreter; printed materials; facing student for lip reading; overhead projector or blackboard.

The student who has difficulty: hearing multimedia presentations due to hearing impairments
can be accommodated with: captioned presentations; sign language interpreter.

The student who has difficulty: participating in class discussions due to hearing or speech impairment
can be accommodated with: electronic communications (e.g., email) where the ability to hear or speak is not required; portable computer with speech output.

The student who has difficulty: understanding concepts due to a specific learning disability
can be accommodated with: visual, aural, and tactile demonstrations incorporated into instruction.

The student who has difficulty: reading because of a specific learning disability
can be accommodated with: extra time and access to materials via a computer equipped with speech and large print output and Internet access.

The student who has difficulty: taking notes in class because of mobility or visual impairment
can be accommodated with: in-class access to a computer with assistive technology and a word processor.

The student who has difficulty: operating lab equipment and conducting lab experiments due to mobility impairment
can be accommodated with: accessible facility; adjustable-height tables; lab partner; scribe; computer-controlled lab equipment with alternative input devices (e.g., speech, Morse code, alternative keyboard); modified scientific equipment.

The student who has difficulty: seeing demonstrations while seated in a wheelchair; viewing lab experiments
can be accommodated with: adjustable-height tables and flexible seating arrangements.

The student who has difficulty: completing an assignment or lab because of a health impairment
can be accommodated with: flexible scheduling arrangements.

The student who has difficulty: doing research
can be accommodated with: information accessible on computer (e.g., disk, Internet) with assistive technology.

Demonstrating Knowledge

Some students 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.

The student who has difficulty: completing and submitting worksheets and tests because of visual impairment or specific learning disability
can be accommodated with: worksheets and tests in large print or Braille, on tape, or via computer; access to assistive technology that provides enlarged, voice, or Braille as well as standard print output.

The student who has difficulty: completing a test or assignment because of a disability that affects the speed at which it can be completed
can be accommodated with: extra time or alternative testing arrangements.

The student who has difficulty: completing a test or assignment because of the inability to write
can be accommodated with: in-class access to a computer with alternative input devices (e.g., Morse code, speech, alternative keyboard).

Universal Design

Some of these suggestions (e.g., incorporating visual, aural, and tactile demonstrations in instruction) benefit all students, not just those with specific disabilities. Universal design of instruction is an approach to teaching that involves consideration of students with a wide range of characteristics, including disabilities. First applied in the field of architecture, universal design is "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or specialized design" (www.ncsu. edu/project/design-projects/udi/center-for-universal-design/the-principles-of-universal-design/). Universal design can be applied to class climate; physical access, usability, and safety; delivery methods; information resources; interaction; feedback; and assessment.

For more information on universal design, select Universal Design at the DO-IT website, www.uw.edu/doit/ 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.

Additional Resources

Video

A 13-minute video, Working Together: Science Teachers and Students With Disabilities, may be freely viewed online or purchased at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/wt_sci.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:

DO-IT
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Box 354842
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doit@uw.edu
www.uw.edu/doit/
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
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Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


Acknowledgment

Much of the content of this publication appeared in the article Teaching Lab Courses to Students with Disabilities by Sheryl Burgstahler, in Information Technology and Disabilities, 3(2), 1996, at staff.washington.edu/sherylb/itd.96.html; it has been modified and reproduced with permission. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant #9255803, #9550003, and Cooperative Agreement #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.

Copyright © 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2003, 2002, 1999, 1996, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.