If you’re a science instructor, please share methods of specific accommodation that you have offered student(s). If you’re a student with a disability who is taking or took a science class, please share accommodations offered to you. Details of the specific accommodations provided for the various activities required in science labs would be particularly helpful. It’s also important to indicate whether the accommodations were helpful, or not helpful! If you aren’t logged into WordPress, you can email me your thoughts and I’ll post them here for you, including whatever acknowledgement you suggest.
Here are some things I have learned relative to students with disabilities:
1. Advance preparation is key. Ensure that all course materials are accessible. To do that, use links in the Resources page, and refer to posts in My Blog. Working with the disability services office (or equivalent) before a student with a disability registers for a class enables the time necessary to develop policies, procedures, and the specific accommodations required to support each student’s needs. As with all students, each student with a disability is unique and may require different accommodations. Despite planning ahead, there is the possibility that after the course has begun it will be determined that additional or different specific accommodations will be necessary.
2. The safety of all students is the most important consideration. What should a student with a disability do if the emergency occurs during lab time? Plan carefully and conduct fire drills and active shooter drills so everyone is prepared in the event of actual emergencies.
3. Formulate policies regarding service animals in the laboratory. It took us the better part of a year to develop a policy that included input from all pertinent areas of the college. In the chemistry lab, for the safety of the animal, the animal will need goggles, booties, a vest, and need to remain on a special mat in a specified area of the lab. Fumes are a consideration, broken glass, chemicals, etc. The policy also will need to consider plans should another student in the class be afraid of or allergic to the dog. Visit the following for some suggestions: ASM Biosafety Guidelines – see page 6; Stockton University’s Policy; The University of Utah’s Policy – see pages 49-52.
4. Have an adjustable lab table for students with disabilities who use a wheelchair or scooter for mobility. Wheelchairs and scooters can present a problem in the lab. Even with an adjustable table, it still may be difficult for the student to manipulate what is on the lab bench. That’s because when the bench’s height is adjusted to permit the front of the wheelchair or scooter to fit beneath, the student’s head is often barely above the height of the bench. And parking parallel to the bench requires the student to twist the upper torso to access the bench. I haven’t found a good solution to this problem yet. Have you? Check with your disability support services office. Normally, students may not be asked to move from a wheelchair or scooter to another seat.
5. Dangerous chemicals or other hazards can be labeled with sandpaper. Once students are aware of the meaning of the sandpaper, it provides a tactile warning for students with visual impairments.
6. Students with visual impairments who have some visual ability may find a tablet useful because images can be easily enlarged.
7. Individuals have expressed that a 3D pen is helpful for making tactile diagrams or graphs, or labeling models and equipment, such as beakers or graduated cylinders, in Braille. Our lab has found, though, that the material does not adhere well to some surfaces. We have found that a glue gun works well.
8. Projecting microscopic images onto a large screen enables students with some visual ability to view them independently instead of relying on verbal explanations.
9. If you’re showing videos in lab, make sure they have closed captions or subtitles for those students with hearing disabilities. For students with visual impairments, add an audio description if the visual content warrants it.
10. Use the Accessibility checker in Word to verify that documents are accessible. Only sans serif fonts should be used. Documents require headings to organize the content for screen readers, tables require specific formatting, and there should not be extra spaces. Make sure to insert page breaks instead of repeatedly pressing the tab key when moving to the next page.
10. Use the Accessibility checker in PowerPoint to verify that all slides are accessible. Text on PowerPoint slides should be no less than 18 point using a Sans Serif font. Some people prefer 24 point fonts. Don’t emphasize words or phrases only with color; use bold as well for those with total blindness. Color has no meaning for students with total blindness. Make sure to add alternative text to all figures, graphs, tables, illustrations, etc. See my blog post regarding alternative text. And check the reading order of each slide.
11. If your labs are capped at a specific enrollment number, make sure to limit registration to allow for a necessary aide, signer, etc.
12. If possible, meet in the lab with the student and the Disability Support Services (or equivalent) personnel before the beginning of the semester to determine the best seating area, emergency evacuation procedures, whether gloves and goggles will fit, will a special apron be necessary for a student who must remain seated, how to accommodate an aide, etc. As noted, planning ahead is key.
More to come!