Teachers need ways to make science, technology, engineering and math education accessible to students with vision, hearing and learning disabilities.
On Feb. 16, Kate Meredith, GLAS Education president and director of education, conducted a half-day workshop at Berry College in Rome, Ga. to help meet that need. About 20 to 25 teachers, pre-service undergraduates and professors from Berry College and Rome area schools attended the workshop. STEMTeach, a training program for science, technology, engineering and math teachers, sponsored the workshop.
“Kate’s workshop was wonderful!” said Todd Timberlake, professor of Physics and Astronomy at Berry. “She did a great job of not only raising our awareness of accessibility issues in STEM teaching, particularly for students with vision impairments, but also of helping us to think through the process of making our teaching more accessible to ALL students,” he said in an email.
“The workshop definitely helped to raise accessibility awareness,” Timberlake said. “We received a lot of positive feedback from the participants.” He said teachers have expressed interest in Kate returning for future workshops.
Berry said many teachers don’t know how to work with students with perceptual disabilities. And by the time they have a challenged student, it’s usually too late to make accommodations, he said.
Creating accessibility for STEM its tough, Kate said. Students with disabilities are as interested in STEM as anyone else, but the requirements of STEM education makes things hard for them, she said.
The workshop took a forearmed-is-forewarned approach. Workshop, participants experienced some of the symptoms of attention deficit disorder using a device called “reverse ears,” and wore vision simulation goggles that create different kinds of visual impairments. Participants also took a stab at transforming visually-based board games, such as “Candy Land,” “Sorry” and “Clue,” into games that the blind and visually-impaired could play.
Kate said redesigning games got the workshop participants thinking about the experiences of the blind and visually impaired. “It’s an easy entry way to practice skills. What would I do? What are other people’s experiences with these games?” Kate said.
Perhaps the most interesting device is the reverse ears. Looking like a beer helmet with without the beer, or the helmet, the reverse ears are two long plastic tubes that lead up from the wearer’s ears, over the head, with the right tube leading to the left ear and the left tube going to the right ear. It’s a way to experience jumbled information, Kate said. It’s disorienting to have sound from the right side entering the left ear and sound from the left going to the right ear, she said.
Kate said Dr. Timberlake helped bring about the in-person workshop. Berry College, with Timberlake’s help, arranged the workshop through a Noyes Grant. Kate’s son, Orion, is a Berry student who is also on the college lacrosse team.
Kate said GLAS is gaining valuable experience at spreading accessibility awareness. “We’re in a really unique position to know a lot of different organizations that are working in this,” she said. “We can act as clearing house for this and we’re good at it.”