Earth Science: A Case Study on Teaching Concepts to a Student with a Visual Impairment

DO-IT Factsheet #164


Joe is a high school sophomore who is legally blind. He can see shadows and bright colors and discern letters and numbers with large print and bold fonts.

Access Issue

Joe was studying concepts related to latitude, longitude, and global maps as part of an earth science class. In the past, Joe had been taught to memorize the continents, but he did not know where they were located spatially on the Earth. His teacher was trying to find accessible maps and globes to help teach these topics both conceptually and spatially. She searched local resources for the blind but was unable to come up with the specific equipment that she needed.


Joe's teacher made several adaptations to the lab activities based on what Joe told her about his vision. The hands-on lesson/lab included assembly of a globe using black-and-white conic maps on a ball. To enhance visual access to this activity, she assembled a global map and overlaid the continent areas with brightly colored paper to make the continents distinct from the ocean areas. She used the same process on a Mercator projection of the globe. She used a low-temperature glue gun to mark the latitude parallels and longitude meridians every 30 degrees, as well as extended lines to differentiate the equator and the prime meridian. These adaptations allowed Joe to experience the spatial orientation of the continents on the globe and estimate location based on longitude and latitude.


This case study illustrates the following:

  1. Teachers need to be aware of situations in which they may be unintentionally reducing the academic requirements for students with disabilities.
  2. The best accommodations are developed when the student and teacher communicate clearly and work together.
  3. Accommodations do not need to be costly. Often, low-tech adaptations can be made with materials and equipment that are readily available in the classroom.

For additional resources related to visual impairments, visit the Knowledge Base article Where can I find resources related to visual impairments? [1]