How can I help a student who is blind or has low vision make measurements in a science lab?
Students who are blind can participate in lab-based or other hands-on activities side by side with sighted students if simple accommodations are in place. Often they will need accommodations to make measurements in a lab activity, since standard rulers, dials on stoves or hot plates, syringes, balances, and many other measuring devices require vision to read. Two simple strategies that can be used for students who are blind are teaming and making equipment tactile.
First, team students who are blind with students or groups with complementary capabilities. Be sure that all students in a group have opportunities to make contributions to projects. Help maximize individual participation by allowing students to decide roles within their group and assessing them, in part, on how well they fulfill those roles. Determine the role for a student who is blind first, since the possibilities may be more limited for him/her than for others, and make sure this student is actively involved in the choice to promote self-advocacy and social skills.
Second, make or adapt items used for measurement and display so they are tactile. If looking at a line on a ruler or graduated cylinder will allow a student to make accurate measurements, then raised lines and raised or Braille numbers can make that equipment accessible to the student who is blind.
Below are specific strategies that a teacher has used to accommodate students who are blind in his science classroom:
- Make a tactile syringe by cutting notches in the plunger at 5-ml increments.
- Make a triple-beam balance tactile by filing deep notches for each gram increment. Add glue drops on either side of the balance line so that the student will know when the weights are balanced.
- Make graphs tactile by using glue sticks or fabric paint.
- Put Braille labels on jars, cabinets, and equipment.
- Identify increments of temperature on a stove or hot plate using fabric paint.
- Use different textures, like sandpaper or yarn, to identify drawers, cabinets, and equipment areas.
- Make models out of clay, plaster of paris, or papier-mâché.
- For geometric shapes, use 3-D triangles or spheres.
- For maximum hands-on experiences, use a pegboard with golf tees and rubber bands to draw shapes or develop spatial awareness.
- Use Styrofoam and toothpicks or molecular kits to show atoms and molecules.
- For a measurement tool, use staples on a meter stick to label centimeters.
- When measuring liquids, have glassware with specific measurements, or make a tactile graduated cylinder: Use a cork borer to make a Styrofoam disk. Get a plastic strip at least four inches tall that is pointed on one end and rounded or squared off on the other, such as the type used to identify plants in a nursery. Cut out notches in the sides of the strip at 5-ml increments. Put a notch in the Styrofoam disk and glue the plastic strip in. When water is put in the cylinder, the Styrofoam will float upwards, and your student can use touch to measure the liquid. This method does not work with acids.
These examples demonstrate that creative use of inexpensive supplies and 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. Regarding all accommodations, ask students to provide insights on strategies that have worked in the past. Remember that students with disabilities are or should be becoming experts on their disabilities and accommodation needs.
For additional resources and information on accommodating students with disabilities in science labs, consult Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities or view the video by the same title. You may also wish to consult the presentation materials Making Math, Science and Technology Instruction Accessible to Students with Disabilities.