Teaching Science to a Blind Student from a Parent’s Perspective
Thank you for the introduction. I'm the father of Andrew Wai, who just spoke about
his science education and his experience with the NFB science academy. I'm a
medicinal chemist, a team leader of a group of scientists across many different
disciplines to research for the active ingredient in new medicine. Science is an
integral part of my life. I loved science as a subject in school; I love science as an
objective way to understand the physical and biological world. It is logical that I
believe every student needs to have a strong education in science, including those
who happen to be blind or severely visually impaired, including my son.
Braille has served blind students very well for text based learning such as language
arts and social studies. Excellent Braille readers can read at a speed comparable to
fast visual readers. Using the computer, text to speech software can spit out 300
words a minute, faster than most people can read, comprehensible to only the trained
ears. These enabling tools equalize text based learning between visually impaired
and sighted students.
Learning science is different. Complimentary to concepts that could be represented
by text, sciences have their unique graphic and symbolic languages. Mathematical
equations, chemical formulas, molecular structures, organic transformation
equations, etc. Transforming this information into the appropriate format for blind
students continues to be a tremendous challenge.
Andrew is a top student. Sciences and Mathematics are his beloved subjects. Yet
over the years, they present bigger and bigger hurdles for him. It is frustrating for
me, as a scientist, to even wonder whether Andrew, who is scientifically inclined,
should pursue his studies in the sciences or choose paths which are more text based.
Today’s symposium on “Teaching Science to Blind and Visually Impaired Students”
addresses the concerns that I have as a father. We have heard from Mr. Jim
Antonacci how important STEM education is to students, including the blind and
visually impaired. We have heard from Mr. Mark Riccobono that the National
Federation of the Blind is putting forth immense resources to address this important
General solutions to ease the hurdles of learning science for the blind are not here
yet. It is still encouraging to see the leadership provided by the NFB, the
determination of our blind students to pursue the subjects that they love, the
educators who are willing to go out of their way to help, and the technology
companies that create accessible tools for the blind.
Through the NFB, we have come across many blind individuals who have
established themselves as excellent scientists. Much of the time, they need to create
new accessible tools to achieve their goals. This creative group of scientists also
serves as excellent role models for the new generation to come. Two years ago,
Andrew had an opportunity to participate in the NFB Science Academy. Through
interacting with excellent blind scientists, he was inspired to nurture his dreams. He
no longer feels alone nor has any doubt about himself in his pursuit of academic
excellence, particularly in the sciences. Their efforts showed us that if there is a will,
there will be a way.
Every day, our blind students are finding ways to learn their subjects. Their teachers
are exploring different means to illustrate the next concepts and to find alternative
means to make them accessible to our students. As a parent, I’m impressed by their
determination, their creativity, and their efforts. I will do whatever that is necessary
to support them. We expect Andrew to learn at his full potential, and we expect
ourselves, as parents, to create the learning and supportive environment to make it
As efforts are focused to address critical issues that affect the education of our blind
students, creative ideas will be generated, and new tools will be created, including
those that are waiting for you to invent.