Using adaptive tools and techniques to teach a class of students who are blind or low-vision

Cary A. Supalo, Thomas E. Mallouk, Christeallia Amorosi, James Lanouette, H. David Wohlers, Kathleen McEnnis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Over the course of the 2007 NFB Youth Slam, the 50 students who participated in the chemistry activities performed hands-on chemistry experiments that they would likely not have had the opportunity to try in most mainstream schools. Students were frequently enthusiastic during post-experiment group discussions, oftentimes going beyond the immediate scope of the curriculum. Students noticed the strong vapors of glacial acetic acid in the Condensation Reactions activity; this prompted a discussion about different proportions of acids and bases and how adjusting these could create different odors, and the widespread use of such formulations in pre-packaged foods, colognes, and perfumes. After the Energy experiment, students directed the discussion toward the environmental ramifications of energy use and how waste affects not only tile earth, but our economy. The students were also exposed to peer modeling, which has been shown to increase self-efficacy, especially in the context of a group project or effort (16). As students observed peers performing a task, they seemed to feel that they were able to perform at the same level. During these group exercises, students wanted to try several different roles within each activity. As illustrated in Figure 1, all three students actively performed the biodiesel separation task at once while guided by their mentor. The Youth Slam also demonstrated a key benefit of recruiting people with disabilities into the STEM professions. Day-to-day life presents many obstacles to people who are BLV. Consequently, many of these people develop well-honed problem-solving skills to adapt to everyday life (17). Constant learning and continual reassessment of current knowledge is crucial to this form of problem solving, as it is in working within the STEM fields. The mentors of the Youth Slam Chemistry Track displayed this adaptability and willingness to learn in abundance. While the expert mentors were working professionals in the STEM fields, few of the individual mentors were trained scientists (Figure 2). Non-science teachers and college undergraduates, human services workers, and people working in the business fields formed the main body of mentors, and demonstrated to the students their ability to learn outside of their professions well enough to teach others. Providing more hands-on experiences such as the 2007 NFB Youth Slam may help students who are BLV realize they can actively participate in laboratory experiences and may further encourage them to consider career paths in the (STEM) professions. The tools and teaching techniques demonstrated at the 2007 Youth Slam are currently being implemented into other science curricula, both in mainstream science classes at schools participating in the ILAB project and at non-participating schools. Feedback from teachers and students will lead to further refinements. A new set of science activities will be implemented at the next NFB Youth Slam, to be held on the University of Maryland College Park campus in July 2009.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-591
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Education


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