Conference brings science into focus for visually impaired

August 6, 2008 By Terry Devitt

Science can be a difficult topic for anyone to master. Imagine, then, trying to conquer chemistry, physics and astronomy without the benefit of vision.

That, in fact, is an everyday problem for thousands of visually impaired individuals, and the traditional means and methods of teaching science are not always amenable to a good learning experience for students. In the extreme, the hurdle can prevent students from being exposed to science and its career potential.

To address the problem, a conference titled Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind Conference on Teaching, Learning and Practicing Science for Students with Visual Impairments has been scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 16, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The daylong conference, which is free and open to the public, is geared primarily to visually impaired students as well as their parents and teachers, says Andrew Greenberg, education and outreach coordinator for UW–Madison’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center and Institute for Chemical Education and an organizer of the conference.

“The idea of this project is to build independence in students and to get them to think about a career in science,” Greenberg explains.

One of the conference organizers and a speaker is Cary Supalo, a blind graduate student in chemistry at Penn State University.

The conference will feature morning workshops for hands-on learning with adaptive technologies, a lunch with the experts forum and an afternoon symposium with talks by science education researchers and students and scientists with visual impairments.

The goals of the conference include:

  • Raising awareness of new technologies for teaching science to students with visual impairments.
  • Sharing successful, low-cost teaching strategies for the visually impaired.
  • Building a community of students and science teachers who may be visually impaired or who have an interest in the topic.
  • Encouraging the pursuit of careers in science by the visually impaired.

Early registration for the free conference is encouraged. Supporters include the National Science Foundation, the UW–Madison Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center and the UW–Madison Eye Research Institute.