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Arizona State University Launches a New Program Aimed To Improve STEM Education Opportunities for Blind Students

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Arizona State University is about to launch a new program in an effort to facilitate access to science, engineering, technology and mathematics classes – better known as STEM – for those disabled students, who suffer from visual impairments of different types and levels, which can affect their ability to gather information through traditional printed and visual sources.

The name of the program is Image Arrays to Graphically Implement New Education and it is designed to provide blind students with tree-dimensional materials to enhance their learning opportunities and allow them to learn about images, which could be found in textbooks, visual presentations or obtained through microscope observations. Arizona State University students as well as those, who study elsewhere, will be invited to participate in the pilot program this year.

The participants will be required to use 3D tactile boards, which were created to specifically meet the unique educational needs of visually disabled students. However, people with normal vision will have a chance to use them as well.

The program will involve re-equipping astronomy and biology laboratories with a section where new 3D tactile boards will be used as an alternative or an addition to traditional lab materials. Such boards are made of impact-resistant plastic and are expected to cost about $60 apiece.

Science classes are always a challenge even for those people, who have normal vision, but for visually disabled students it can become an insurmountable obstacle. At present blind and visually impaired students have to rely on portable Braille note-takers and other special devices as well as on their sighted classmates and teachers to describe images or tell the information they cannot see. Thus, their learning opportunities are pretty much limited – especially when pursuing careers in STEM-related fields, which require a great deal of research work and detailed observations. Such students face many barriers unknown to their non-disabled peers. They are often forced to give up their dreams to become scientists or researchers for obvious reasons and their career choice is narrowed.

Although the idea itself is not new, the ASU program is to some extent unique, for it will give blind students the ability to perceive information not through conventional tactile diagrams and Braille texts but through 3D-models, which allow better tactile representation and consequently a deeper understanding of scientific concepts.

Should the pilot program be successful, it will be used in all introductory STEM courses. The research team is currently trying to get additional funding from the National Science Foundation and other organizations, which are interested in supporting such research projects.

Anyway the team is very enthusiastic about it and believes the project will mark the beginning of a new era of enhanced educational opportunities for blind and visually impaired students, who are passionate about studying science and are prepared to go to great length to achieve their dreams.





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