Two of the schools I’ve attended required students in upper grade levels to complete projects and participate in the school science fair to demonstrate their understanding of the scientific method and how it can be used to acquire knowledge on a given topic and inspire further learning. Both of the schools I attended banned “traditional” science projects like the baking soda volcano and encouraged students to explore areas that they were interested in, and I ended up completing projects in areas such as animal behavior, geology, and social science- my social science project was later turned into one of my first blog posts and helped spark an interest in writing about accessibility. Today I will be sharing some of my favorite tips for presenting at science fairs with low vision, and creating presentations that everyone can access.
Finding ideas for a science fair project
Instead of choosing a science fair project that relied on a high level of visual details or precision, a lot of my projects incorporated other senses such as sound, smell, or texture as a way of conveying information or changes. Some ideas for finding a science project topic include:
- Checking out a book on science projects and experiments from Bookshare or another library. My project on the effects of acid rain came out of a book that had a chapter dedicated to experiments that involved changes in texture
- Talking to a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) about project ideas, or projects related to vision. This is a great way to learn more about different topics related to eyes and vision
- Consider a food science project that focuses on elements such as taste and texture, instead of just visual changes
- Science Buddies is a nonprofit website that has several ideas for science projects- I have not personally used this, this was a recommendation from a reader
- The Accessible Science section on the Perkins School for the Blind website has several ideas for making science lessons and experiments inclusive of blind and low vision students
- Fast Facts About Bookshare
- Science Fair Project Ideas, Answers, & Tools (sciencebuddies.org)
- Accessible Science – Perkins School for the Blind
Presenting information on a trifold/other format
My favorite way to present information is by using a digital trifold template, as I find it easier to organize information and add design elements that would be hard for me to do on my own for physical presentations (such as cutting out different shapes or resizing pictures). While some of my teachers have approved of me using a digital trifold, others required me to create a physical trifold presentation or use another alternative display.
When I presented a project on the use of colored backgrounds and the readability of text, one of the biggest “fails” I made when putting together a trifold presentation was color coding everything and using color as the sole mean of conveying information in some cases. Admittedly, I hadn’t put much thought into many of the visual details of my presentation since this had to be put together at the last minute, and I was embarrassed later that night when I learned that three out of the five judges had some form of colorblindness and were unable to read or understand a lot of what I was presenting.
Typing a reference document
Instead of turning my head to read information on a trifold or flipping through a bunch of notes during a presentation, I type a reference document that displays a copy of everything on my presentation as well as additional notes that I can read either from a large print page or from my tablet. I structure the document with headings so that it is easier to scroll and locate information, and include high resolution copies of graphs or other images so that I can easily answer questions or share additional details. While it wasn’t in the context of a science project, this has been an invaluable resource when presenting on exhibit halls at conferences or giving other presentations, and I can also share the document with others.
Creating accessible graphs/visualizations
After the color-coded catastrophe, I realized there was much more to accessible graphs and data visualizations than just having a large font size. I have an ongoing series on creating accessible graphs and charts for people with vision loss that cover various types of visualizations that is linked below, though these posts cover topics that may not be necessary for a school science project.
Some of my general tips for creating accessible graphs for a science project include:
- Add labels to the x and y axis and put the legend/key in an area that is easy to locate
- Don’t rely on color only to convey information- add text labels or shapes to make an item easier to identify. For a real-world example, a stop sign is not just red, it is also a distinctive shape and has the word STOP on it so that people know what it is
- Instead of manually typing data in a word processing or presentation application, store a copy of it in a spreadsheet program and copy/paste the cells into the chart creation program. This makes it easier to change chart displays or share information later
- Give charts descriptive titles so that they are easy to identify
Giving a presentation
I love giving presentations and talking about my research, and having a reference document has been a game changer for science fairs and exhibit halls. Here are some other tips and techniques that have helped me give effective presentations:
- When I was presenting at a college event that had poor lighting, I had trouble noticing when people would approach my table. To avoid talking to thin air, I put up a sign that told people to say “hello there” when first arriving. Not everyone ended up doing this, but it did help me a lot
- To avoid having people use vague location terms such as “here” or “there”, one of my friends would number different sections of their trifold and include the numbers in their reference document. With the added numbers, people were more likely to mention the section number when asking a question, and if they didn’t my friend would ask “which section number are you referring to?” for further clarification
- Students who use screen readers or use audio formats for reading may prefer to use one earbud or bone conducting headphones to ensure they are able to hear what people are saying
- While this isn’t specific to my vision loss, I have trouble standing for long periods of time and to avoid bumping into my project while moving around, I requested a chair from the event organizers so that it was easier for me to talk to people.
- Creating Inclusive and Accessible Video Lectures For Visually Impaired Audiences
- College Interview Tips For Disabled Students
Other tips for participating in science fairs with low vision
- For students who are sensitive to light, especially strobe or flashing lights, check with event organizers to ensure that their project is away from any other student projects that use those effects
- All of the science fairs I have attended had a dress code- choose something that is comfortable and easy to move around in
- Another option for making graphics easier to read is to include QR codes on the presentation that users can scan to view a copy of the data or a higher resolution image of the graph