By Daniel Johnson, Investigative Reporter
Chemistry instructor Carol Martinez has taken on quite a challenging task, which is to make science classes and labs more accessible and practical for students with disabilities with the Universal Design Project created by Martinez.
In the summer of 2013, Martinez said she was approached by the Disabilities Resource Center on behalf of a student who was classified as being disabled with complete blindness, and wanted to take a science class that was needed to complete his Associate degree.
On behalf of the student’s request the DRC encouraged an adaptation to the curriculum for Chemistry 1410 and 1492, so the Math Science and Engineering department began working on a process to achieve that goal, Martinez said.
One of the main things that the chemistry class focuses on is called periodic trends of the periodic table and the books have many figures that address that, but there is no way for a person who is not sighted to figure out what those trends are, she said
“I made a couple of three dimensional charts to show what those trends are,” Martinez said.When the subject matter was discussed in the classroom the visually impaired student was able to use the tactical learning tools to feel out what was being discussed, she said.
The tactile tools used were able to help the other students in class, as well as assisting the student who the tools were intended for, so everyone is benefiting from this new project, she said.
“With me purchasing a few items, as well as using some of my creative ingenuity, I was able to make other tools that proved to be useful to the student,” she said.A lot of the tools that were used to benefit this student were used for the first time, so it took a lot of work on behalf of the student and the supporting staff to help achieve the goals that were set, she said.
Many tools were purchased to accommodate the student by the MSE department, such as an atomic tactile model set to differentiate between protons and electrons, as well as a talking scale, talking thermometer and talking colorimeter, she said.
“It was great to be able to see the student use all of these items to achieve the same level of learning and participation as all the other students in the class,” Martinez said.
Tutor at Montoya campus Maria Stevens said the student had been a regular visitor to the tutoring center, and it was already known that he benefited from tactile learning tools, but that online work was tough for him.
However, with the challenges set fourth though, the student still showed a level of dedication that is rarely seen, she said.
“The idea of coming up with new ways to help students that have different needs than most was a challenge that we at the tutoring center had fun taking on,” she said.
If the student had something set up to remind himself physically of what he was trying to remember mentally it made the learning process easier for him, she said.
Stevens said that the reading and writing portions of the class were tough for him, but that giving him a supportive foundation of extra curriculum helped him to succeed.
“I believe that we were helpful because he would not have been able to achieve his goals without the use of the tactile tools, and different tutors and teachers being there to support him,” Stevens said.
Martinez said there are materials available for students with disabilities, but are not designed to reach the specific needs of each individual with different incapacities.
The student in question was recently affected with blindness Martinez said, so his ability to read in brail was not that great and buying a book in brail would have been no better than giving the book to someone who could not read English.
Stevens said the idea of being able to provide enough equipment to anybody that wants an education is something that the school would like to see as a whole even if it is not financially possible.
This experience is why it is nice to see teachers and tutors working together to
provide different forms of learning materials to help out students, she said.
“We are going to try to meet the needs of all individuals that need assistance, be it hearing impaired, blind or any other kind of disability in any subject that they may be taking,” she said.
Stevens said that Martinez has helped to develop the working relationship between this student’s class and the tutoring center and that makes her a truly standup kind of individual.
Now, if any other students need special assistance similar to this case or with new challenges it will be the responsibility of the Universal Design Project to try and create or provide the needed equipment, she said.
“I am more then willing to take what I have created and use it to teach any and all students with special needs that need chemistry classes for their degrees. Since everybody has different learning styles, it only seems right to try and find a way to teach everybody in any way that is needed,” she said.
In August, all of the tools that were made to help the particular disabled student last spring, will be presented at the bi-annual conference on chemical education in Grand Rapids Michigan Martinez said, where hopefully these new tools created can be used to teach disabled students at all levels of science and chemistry education.