How can I make my chemistry labs accessible to students with disabilities?
Lab science classes like chemistry create unique access challenges for some students with disabilities. However, resources exist to help educators maximize the participation of all students in these important learning experiences.
The first step is a commitment to flexibility and compromise on the part of both the student and the teacher. Often, simple solutions, such as working in lab pairs or small groups, can allow students to utilize individual strengths to complete the lab activity. Basic modifications to lab setups and equipment—such as adjustable-height tables and fume hoods, gas taps placed at the front of the bench or that operate via levers, non-slip coating on bench tops, plastic instead of glassware, and high-contrast signage and equipment labels—can increase accessibility and allow for more comfortable working conditions for all students. Tactile equipment kits such as the Tactile Adaptations Kit and the Multi-Sensory Lab Gear Kit can also be purchased and used with students year after year.
The Chemists with Disabilities subcommittee of the American Chemical Society publishes a comprehensive guide, Teaching Chemistry to Students with Disabilities: A Manual for High Schools, Colleges, and Graduate Programs, on planning for and working with students with disabilities in chemistry. For a case study of how one university is working to increase the accessibility of their chemistry department, see Learning and Teaching Perspectives: Disability and Chemistry.
For additional guidance on accommodating students with disabilities in science labs, consult the publication Making Science Labs Accessible to Students with Disabilities. The publication Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities and the video with the same title provide more general information about including students with disabilities in science classes. For more comprehensive materials, consult the The Alliance for Access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (AccessSTEM) website and the resource and presentation materials Making Math, Science and Technology Instruction Accessible to Students with Disabilities.
Last update or review: June 29, 2010