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Teaching Chemistry to Students with Visual Impairments

These tips for teaching chemistry to students who are blind or visually impaired includes suggestions for accessible instructional materials.

By Jennifer Bliss, Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The resources and instructional materials below may be helpful when teaching chemistry to students who are blind or visually impaired.

Periodic Tables

The PURPOSE of the periodic table is important when choosing which to use.

Periodic Table structure:

If a student is learning the structure of the table and its importance (periods, families, etc.) then a hard copy is important, especially as an introduction. The APH Periodic Table is adequate for this, but needs some modification and pre-teaching. I add tactile tape to go across the first three periods—as students easily get lost tracking across those rows where there are gaps—especially period 1 with hydrogen way on the left and helium way on the right. I also add tactile tape that runs down through the 8 representative groups and add braille at the top of those for the names. It is helpful also to add some sort of tactile marking to each element key as the designations for metal/nonmetal are color and not tactile. If students who are braille readers are using this periodic table to look up details on elements, it is essential that they use the brailled reference book that accompanies it so they can quickly find elements by symbol, name, atomic number, etc. and get additional information on each element. If an
electronic version is used when teaching table structure, it is important that the online version voice rows and columns.

Periodic Table as a reference for details on elements:

Once the structure is understood, it is often easier for a student to use an online resource for looking up
information. Even a voice assistant can be quickly used to find the mass of hydrogen or whatever.

Accessible online periodic tables

Math Window® Print/Braille Chemistry Kit – Nemeth

The Math Window® Chemistry Kit provides students with the tools needed to understand chemical principles and solve chemistry problems in the mainstream classroom. All items are labeled in both braille and print.

Bunsen Burners

Some pre-teaching will be necessary, but Bunsen burners are no more dangerous than a gas stove. Allow student to practice ahead of time with no flame by putting whatever will be over the burner into place and moving materials around, whether with a test tube and clamp or a beaker stand. Make sure the Bunsen burner is firmly attached to the lab table so it can’t be accidentally knocked over.

Labs

Complicated labs may need pre-teaching. Provide lab directions in student’s preferred format. Consider
allowing the student a separate set of materials (while still working within lab group) so they have time to feel and understand procedures and materials.

Adapted tools for measuring may be available for loan from Resource Centers in your state or district, with materials such as: talking thermometers digital scales; tactile and talking metric distance
measuring devices; tactile caliper that allows measurements to 1 mm accuracy; tactile spring scales, adapted syringes, beakers and graduated cylinders; funnel stand for pouring; trays for organizing, talking Labquest. A piece of sandpaper or a tactile dot can be added to chemicals that might be toxic.

Online simulations

Generally, online simulations are not accessible. An alternative activity with manipulative materials is usually required. Phet has done some work with accessibility in their simulations.
https://phet.colorado.edu/en/accessibility/prototypes

Braille notation

There are some special braille notations for chemistry. Some of these will need pre-teaching by the students teacher of the visually impaired. Braille Code for Chemical Notation (1997) from the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) is a helpful resource.

Be sure to see also this resource on Nemeth Braille for Chemistry.

Braille label maker for adding quick labels to materials

Described and Captioned Media Program

Accommodations for Students with Low Vision

Braille and tactile materials available from the American Printing House (APH)

Azer's Periodic Table Study Set

Velcro board with multiple sets of element pieces (tactile, color, print and braille). Also includes coefficients, oxidation and subscript numbers, plus signs, parenthesis, yield arrows. Atomic structure velcro atom with pieces to model atoms up to Argon (18).

APH Period Table

Large print and braille. Accompanied by braille and print reference books which list elements in separate sections by element name, atomic number, symbol, etc. (Product discontinued)

Cover of Basic Science Tactile Graphics
  • 43 States of Matter
  • 43 Atom
  • 44 Molecules and Compounds
  • 44 Water Molecule

Pour water into a beaker with a braille ruler

Contains materials for students with no vision to participate in labs. Funnel, tactile tape measure, trays for containing and sorting materials, pan balance with tactile masses, velcro histogram, talking thermometer, and adapted cylinders, beakers and a syringe. A talking digital scale is not included, but should be considered as another tool once students understand the concept of mass.

Additional Materials

These braille and tactile materials may also be helpful:

Reprinted with permission of the author.

Return to Accessible Science main page.

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