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 issue. 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 possible. 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.
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