In my science classes, I would often complete science labs that were designed to help students understand the topic. Because I had low vision, I’d see things differently, or sometimes not at all. Because of this, I needed to find ways to make my science labs more accessible. Here are some of my tips for making science labs accessible for students with vision impairments, including low vision and blindness, that can benefit teachers, students, special education staff, and teachers of the visually impaired.
Have a partner
My science classes often had us do labs with partners, and this helped me tremendously. My lab partners were often one of my friends, so I didn’t have to worry about explaining my low vision or limitations to them. We also would have our own trade-offs for segments of the assignments. For example, they would weigh items and give me the numbers, and I would document them and help perform calculations. They also would measure items for me and keep me from spilling things everywhere. We were not completely safe from mess-ups though- just ask my science teacher who watched as my friend and I misinterpreted some instructions and had a marshmallow shoot through the ceiling. However, having a lab partner is a great way to help prevent things like this from happening more often.
Why lab partners are important
I didn’t realize how great having a lab partner was until I had a teacher who wouldn’t let me have one. Their reasoning for this is that it was unfair to the other students to work with a disabled student. As a result, I often had lower grades on assignments and it took me longer to complete them, if I completed them at all. I had great difficulty with seeing the lines on lab equipment, and was nervous around chemicals and fire due to my low vision. There was also a fear that I would accidentally blow up the classroom or set off the fire alarm. I recognize that the teacher had limited resources due to our large class size and did not have access to low vision or assistive technology information, so there are several factors that led to this happening. This further shows how important having a lab partner can be.
Utilize a paraprofessional, co-teacher, or TVI
Students with low vision may benefit from having a different type of lab partner. Instead of a fellow student, a paraprofessional, co-teacher, or teacher of the visually impaired can assist with completing a lab. I remember I once completed a lab with my science tutor who worked at the school and found that it worked out really well. Working with staff members on labs allows the assignments to be adapted more easily. It also embraces the use of technology, especially assistive technology.
- Brainfuse Online Tutoring Review
- Why You Should Have A Tutor From Your School
- Ten Lessons My TVI Taught Me
- How To Embrace Assistive Technology With Limited Funding
Adapt science assignments
In my chemistry class, my teacher encouraged me to learn as much as I could about making materials accessible. They did not know much about the topic, so I took it upon myself to learn how to do this, and I ended up sharing my research as a science project. Whether it’s adding color, enlarging text, or attaching high-quality images, learning how to make assignments accessible is a very important skill.
- Paper Size and Low Vision
- My Eight Favorite Free Fonts For Print Disabilities
- How To Create High Resolution Images For Users With Low Vision
- Ten Spooky Inaccessible Assignments and How To Fix Them
Use video magnifiers instead of microscopes
In a college geology class, the lab instructor had us look through a microscope to see the details in rocks. For me, I used a video magnifier that projected onto a larger screen. That way, I could see images clearly and easily. There are video microscopes available for zooming in further, but for me a standard video magnifier did the trick.
Embrace the use of apps
I use quite a few different applications in my science classes, including Microsoft OneNote, Notability, and some other class-specific apps. Lots of developers are investing in creating accessible apps that can be used with a variety of assistive technologies, and I have been thrilled to have access to these apps so I can do my schoolwork successfully.
- Microsoft Office OneNote
- Notability and Low Vision Review
- 5 Apps That Help Students With Low Vision In The Science Classroom
Request safety glasses without magnification
Some safety glasses and goggles have magnification built into them. Because of the prescription of my glasses and the additional prism, I often found the additional magnification to be disorienting. Because of this, I would request safety glasses without magnification built in. These are not difficult to find and can often be found in another classroom or science closet.
Also, this should be a given, but never remove prescription glasses or sunglasses to work with safety glasses. When a teacher insisted I remove my glasses, my paper caught on fire because I couldn’t see my surroundings. If something like this happens, report it to your case manager or TVI immediately.
Know your limits
Often times, there would be some component of a science lab that would be very difficult or impossible to accomplish. This was due to the combination of my low vision and the technology present. As a result, I would often work with teachers to adapt assignments as needed. For me, this included watching someone use a bunsen burner instead of working with it myself, using smaller amounts of chemicals, or watching videos of labs online and answering questions. I was the one to request these things, so I never felt like I was being told I couldn’t do something because of my low vision. Again, I didn’t want to blow up the classroom or set off the fire alarm if I could avoid it.
Take additional safety precautions
By knowing limits, additional safety precautions can be taken to ensure lab safety. I would always wear safety goggles if I was working with anything that could potentially hurt my eyes. This was true even if the rest of the class wasn’t wearing goggles. I also would work on a mat or other surface to avoid spilling things and ruining the desk. My teachers would come up with additional safety precautions as needed to help make the lab safer for me as well.
If you think you need help, ask
I had a teacher who told us that it was better for us to ask them a silly question than it was for us to think that we knew everything and then get ourselves into trouble. At one point, I thought I could fill up cups of water without worrying about them overflowing. I ended up flooding the sink, getting water on the floor, and completely drenching my clothes. The teacher thought I had taken a shower or fallen into a pool fully clothed! I wish I had asked for assistance, but at least everybody got a laugh out of it.
Don’t shy away from science
Don’t be afraid to embrace science and see all that it has to offer, and don’t listen to anyone who says that people with disabilities don’t belong in the science community or science classroom. I hope that these tips help you to make science labs more accessible and instill a love of science and the world around us.