Camper using a large eye-dropper tool to create a slide under a hood.

Tech Time-Out #3 Accessing Labs: Engineering Camp 2016

Suggestions on how to make labs accessible for students with visual impairments and blindness.

During the NC State Engineering VIB Camp, high school students successfully completed hands-on activities in real-life NCSU STEM labs. Campers with visual impairments and blindness (VIB) worked along side NCSU professors and student teams in their labs.  During the summer, each of these particular lab teams were a combination of current NCSU undergrad and graduate students, a high school teacher, and a supervising professor.   In the Biomechanics Lab, Dr. Kate Saul’s research applies mechanical engineering techniques to improve treatment outcomes for neuromusculoskeletal disorders. 

Student using iPhone and Join.Me app to view PointPoint in NCSU Lab.

Campers viewing table with bones and models depicting bones, muscles and joints.Campers learned about the research through a PowerPoint discussion and video, then broke into three groups for hands-on activities.  One activity demonstrated how the muscular system works using real bones along with models to show how the bones, muscles and joints work together.  Other activities included attaching sensors to arm muscles to measure the energy output; and, stimulating the muscles using small amounts of electric current. 

Student making a power fist with electrodes recording his muscle energy.

Camper receiving physical instruction on how to use the eye-dropper tool before independently creating a slide under the sterile hood.In the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) labs, Dr. Brendan O’Connor’s research focuses on the development of low-cost, high efficiency flexible organic solar cells.  In these two labs, students had the opportunity to prepare slides in a sterile environment and then learn more about the tools and processes involved with this type of research. 

In the Computer Science Lab, Dr. Tifffany Barnes’ team did a hands-on activity that helped explain the theory behind computer code; these students also facilitated a lively discussion about their passion for computer science and their experiences about being in the computer science department.

How can a student with visual impairments or blindness (VIB) successfully complete hands-on lab experiments?  Here are some of the modifications used in the labs during the engineering camp:

Camper using iPhone and Join.Me to view PowerPoint presentation in NCSU lab.

Students exploring joint models made of styrofoam balls, foam board, pins and rubbers bands.

Camper doing push ups to create muscle energy; voltmeter uses buzzes and lights to indicate energy levels.

Students visually and tactually exploring glass slides before experiment.

Student receiving physical instruction on how to hold and use the eye dropper tool prior to creating a slide under the hood.

Large free standing sealed lab workspace with thick rubber gloves extending out from the front of the box.  Researcher accesses items in the box by putting his hands and arms into thick rubber gloves.

Two campers with smiling and pained expressions as their arm muscles are stimulated through electrodes.

The same basic accessibility accommodations apply in K-12 education as well as on the college level.  The following are suggestions for mainstream educators to incorporate into their labs:


Unfortunately, in mainstream classroom labs, students with VIB are often on the sidelines and are not expected and/or not allowed to do the hands-on portions of the lab.  Especially in K-12 labs, students are working with non-hazardous materials and the experiment procedures are typically “safe” for everyone.  Students with VIB should be actively involved throughout the entire activity.

Set-up for Success

Student Responsibility

Teacher/Professor Responsibilities

Pinterest collage of accessing labs

By Diane Brauner

NC State Engineering VIB campers and instructors using BlindSquare on campus routes.

Tech Time-Out #2 Navigation: Engineering Camp 2016

3 year old boy with 3-fingers touching the top section on an iPad.

Spatial Tech Standards 1: Directional Terms

Students viewing a professor lecturing with PPT Engineering slide in the background.

Tech Time-Out #1 Accessing PowerPoint Presentation: Engineering Camp 2016