Teaching Chemistry and Other Sciences to Blind and Low-Vision Students through Hands-On Learning Experiences in High School Science Laboratories

Open Access
Supalo, Cary Alan
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 19, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Thomas E Mallouk, Dissertation Advisor
  • Thomas E Mallouk, Committee Chair
  • Karl Todd Mueller, Committee Member
  • Mark Maroncelli, Committee Member
  • William Carlsen, Committee Member
  • George Bodner, Committee Member
  • chemistry
  • blind
  • low vision
  • hands-on
  • laboratory
  • science
  • multisensory
  • teach
  • students
Students with blindness and low vision (BLV) have traditionally been underrepresented in the sciences as a result of technological and attitudinal barriers to equal access in science laboratory classrooms. The Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind (ILAB) project developed and evaluated a suite of talking and audible hardware/software tools to empower students with BLV to have multisensory, hands-on laboratory learning experiences. This dissertation focuses on the first year of ILAB tool testing in mainstream science laboratory classrooms, and comprises a detailed multi-case study of four students with BLV who were enrolled in high school science classes during 2007-08 alongside sighted students. Participants attended different schools; curricula included chemistry, AP chemistry, and AP physics. The ILAB tools were designed to provide multisensory means for students with BLV to make observations and collect data during standard laboratory lessons on an equivalent basis with their sighted peers. Various qualitative and quantitative data collection instruments were used to determine whether the hands-on experiences facilitated by the ILAB tools had led to increased involvement in laboratory-goal-directed actions, greater peer acceptance in the students’ lab groups, improved attitudes toward science, and increased interest in science. Premier among the ILAB tools was the JAWS/Logger Pro software interface, which made audible all information gathered through standard Vernier laboratory probes and visually displayed through Logger Pro. ILAB tools also included a talking balance, a submersible audible light sensor, a scientific talking stopwatch, and a variety of other high-tech and low-tech devices and techniques. While results were mixed, all four participating BLV students seemed to have experienced at least some benefit, with the effect being stronger for some than for others. Not all of the data collection instruments were found to reveal improvements for all of the participating students, but each of the types of data sets provided evidence of benefit for varying subgroups of participants. It is the expectation of the ILAB team that continuing to implement adaptive/assistive technologies for BLV students in science laboratory classrooms will foster enhanced opportunities in science classes and professions.