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Debra Ruh

  Employability & Technology

10/18/2010

The Science Accessibility Project: Improving Science Courses for Visually Impaired Students

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The Open University is a distance learning institution with over 250,000 students and of these over 10,000  have declared that they are disabled or have special additional requirements. One of the key features of the University is that it has no entrance requirements- it is open to all. It is possible for students to study individual courses, general degrees, specific named degrees or undertake postgraduate studies.  The Open University is proud of its claim to be 'Open to all'. In view of this, it has funded the Science accessibility project to ensure that it is following best practice to allow visually impaired students the opportunity to study Science courses. 

 

Science subjects present many challenges for students with visual impairments because teaching methods are based on intensive use of non-text elements (graphs, tables, data sets, diagrams, and other visual representations), models and practical work. Current advice and guidance for OU staff concerned with teaching science subjects is too general and non-subject specific to enable them to directly understand and manage the teaching, learning and curriculum issues as they relate to visually impaired students.

 

The University has commissioned Dr Derek Naysmith, an independent consultant, to undertake this study on their behalf. Derek obtained a BSc in Applied Physics, his PhD and was a college lecturer for 6 years before losing his sight in 1986. Since then he has obtained degrees in Computing and Human Geography, worked as a Systems Analyst for 20 years and has been an independent consultant for 4 years. Derek has been a trustee of the British Computer Association of the Blind for 15 years serving as Company Secretary for 9 and Chairman for 4.

 

By investigating how blind and visually impaired students are best enabled to enjoy studying and achieve learning outcomes in science subjects, the project aims to

     

 

Determine whether the OU is providing reasonable adjustments for Blind/VI science students compared to other universities.

 

Provide better guidance for the Science Faculty in the design and delivery of inclusive modules and qualifications

 

Seek to ensure that visually impaired students have more opportunities to study Science courses at the University and to ensure appropriate support and adjustments are in place.

 

To help to achieve these objectives the University is seeking feedback from visually impaired students who have studied Science at University/college level.  We are also seeking information from support and academic staff who have assisted visually impaired students to study science courses.  We want to find out any adjustments that helped visually impaired students enjoy their studies, any techniques or equipment that assisted students and to find out issues that made studying difficult. To obtain this information we would appreciate it if students or support staff could complete the appropriate attached questionnaire.  Be assured that the information you provide will be treated in the utmost confidence.

 

If you wish to discuss the project with Derek Naysmith contact him via Derek.naysmith@bcab.org.uk .

 

Your participation in the Science Accessibility project is much appreciated and will provide valuable information to allow us to understand how to improve the accessibility of Open University science teaching.

 

Derek Naysmith