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DO-IT mentor supervises scholars during science lab

Negative faculty attitudes can create barriers for students with disabilities pursuing science, math, and engineering.

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Science Labs FAQ

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Q. MATHEMATICS NOTATION: How do I transcribe mathematical and scientific notation into Braille?

A. Contact the disability student services office to help with the transcription process. Nemeth Code Braille is a special type of Braille used for math and science notations. Transcription can be done by a professional service or in-house if the proper hardware, software, and technical expertise are available. For more information on other accommodations to access to science and mathematics notation, see

Q. SCANNING MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE INFORMATION: Can mathematical or scientific information be converted to speech or Braille output for students with visual impairments by using a scanner?

A. Text information can be readily scanned and converted by optical character recognition (OCR) to Braille or speech output with appropriate hardware and software. Current OCR technology does not always recognize scanned mathematical or scientific notations accurately. Proofreading is an essential part of the transcription process to ensure the accuracy of the material.

Q. COMPUTER GRAPHS: How can a student who is blind participate in labs that require computer graphing?

A. A student who has some usable sight may be able to use the graphing software if the text and graphics on the screen can be enlarged using either features built into the operating system or adaptive software. A student who is blind can work with a partner who can verbally describe the graphs.

Q. TACTILE DIAGRAMS: What are tactile diagrams?

A. Tactile diagrams are basically raised line drawings (similar to Braille) that can be used to transmit visual information such as that found in graphs, chemical structures, and biological drawings. Tactile diagrams are created by using computer software files or a line drawing of the image. The diagram is transferred to tactile image paper and a thermal image enhancer "burns" the raised lines into the paper. Tactile drawings are typically used by individuals who are blind. Tactile diagrams can be accessed through a diagram library, or they can be created with the equipment just described. Your campus disability student services staff can help you procure tactile diagrams if a student needs them as an accommodation in your course. A good source for information on tactile diagrams and a tactile diagram library can be found at Purdue University.

Q. HEARING IMPAIRMENTS: Do I need to make any special adjustments in a laboratory for a student who is deaf?

A. Yes. Provide written instructions or captioned video instructions/demonstrations prior to the lab. Safety procedures should also be reviewed with the student and visual lab warning signals (e.g., flashing lights) need to be in place. It may also be helpful to provide preferential seating so the student can view demonstrations and watch the instructor. It is important to remember that a student who uses a sign language interpreter or read lips may have difficulty simultaneously watching a demonstration and watching the interpreter or reading lips. Discuss lab activities with the student as he is the best source of information about his needs.

Q. LAB ACCESSIBILITY: Are there any standards for lab accessibility for students with mobility impairments?

A. There are no overall standards for setting up science labs as needs vary considerably depending on the subject, the physical facility, and the physical abilities of each student. Specifications for wheelchair accessibility to the facility, however, do exist. For example, doors need to be 32 inches wide and thresholds should be no higher than 1/2 inch. Ramps and/or elevators need to be provided as an alternative to stairs, and a wheelchair-accessible restroom needs to be close by. There are also general guidelines that can enhance access to the physical space and equipment in the laboratory. The ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) or your state access requirements provide specific details about knee space, table top height, horizontal and vertical reach parameter, wheelchair maneuvering space, and related dimensions to help in design of accessible lab stations. Consult with your state architect's office about specific design requirements in wet or dry labs, super clean labs, etc. For example, aisles should be kept wide and clear. Lab tables, sinks, and other workspaces should allow wheelchair access and proper workspace height. At least one adjustable workstation is recommended. For students with limited use of their hands, a wide range of adaptive devices and/or computer technology can provide access to lab equipment that requires fine motor coordination, dexterity and precision. For example, clamps can be used to stabilize objects, or software can be used for measuring and graphing. For more specific science lab accommodations, please refer to the Mobility Impairments or Science Labs sections of The Faculty Room.

Q. SCIENCE ACCOMMODATIONS: What are typical accommodations required by students with disabilities in science classes?

A. For an overview of accommodations that help students with disabilities gain and demonstrate knowledge and fully participate in science classes, consult the publication and video entitled Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities.

For answers to more questions, search the Knowledge Base.