Accessible Science Labs


Karen Milchus <>

Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access

Georgia Tech., Atlanta, GA


Science laboratory activities pose many barriers to students with disabilities.This session will demonstrate several ways that high school or college level chemistry and physics laboratory activities can be made accessible to students with physical or visual disabilities.Computer-based science experiments, in the form of computer-controlled lab equipment or experiment simulations, can be combined with assistive technology to allow a student to independently collect scientific data.Additional assistive technology and alternative techniques can help students perform other laboratory tasks.




While schools have begun to eliminate architectural barriers within science classrooms, barriers still remain for participating in the laboratory activities.Students with mobility impairments have obvious difficulties manipulating equipment such as pipettes and gages.Likewise, visually impaired students have difficulty reading measurement devices such as graduated cylinders, and multimeters.By not being able to participate in science labs, these students are discouraged from taking science courses and pursuing technical careers.




Under a current NSF project, Developing Accessible Laboratory Experiments, the presenter is developing a series of accessible laboratory experiments for high school and college level chemistry and physics courses. One approach is to investigate the accessibility of mainstream computer-based lab systems.Computer-based data acquisition systems are fairly inexpensive, and they offer a variety of sensor options to measure light, pH, temperature, force, and voltages. Experiment simulations, ranging from frog dissections to studies of projectile motion to a virtual chemistry lab are also being used more in science classes.When these science technologies are combined with computer access technology, students with disabilities may be able to conduct experiments themselves.For example, a computer can record measurements from a temperature probe, and the readings can be magnified or spoken by a synthesizer for students with visual impairments. A student who has difficulty using his or her hands can dissect a virtual frog through voice commands.


Another approach is to look at ways in which assistive technology or other accommodations can be used to perform some lab tasks or make the computerized ones more accessible.For example, a talking multimeter might be used to make measurements.


It may not be possible to make an experiment fully accessible for a particular student, but our goals are to let the students conduct as much of the experiment themselves as possible, and to enable them to make the required scientific decisions during the course of the experiment.




The experiments and accommodations developed for this project are being made available to the public via the Internet site Barrier Free Education: Resources for the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities into Math and Science Education --




This project was supported by the National Science Foundation.Additional support for the website has come from the Toyota and NEC Foundations.




Selected Presentation Slides


Computer-Controlled Laboratory Systems

Todayís demonstration will use Vernierís Universal Lab Interface


Sensor Types

Current and Voltage probes, Light sensor, Pressure Sensors

Photogates, Force sensor, Accelerometer, Magnetic field probe
pH electrode, Colorimeter, Conductivity probe

Barometer, Geiger counter

Heart rate monitors, Dissolved Oxygen Probe


What accommodations are needed?

        What tasks need to be performed?

        Which of these tasks pose barriers to the student?

        Is there another way of performing the task or technology that might help?


When it is a measurement task, what is really required?

Example:Measuring Liquids

        Specific precise amount

        Any amount - measured accurately

        Incremental amounts

        Approximate amount

        Does not matter


Example: Titration Experiment

        Setup equipment / chemicals

        Add one chemical to another, stir

        Measure liquids accurately

        Determine when end-point reached


Titration: Setup (Transfer) Chemicals

        Container to container - use a funnel

        Non-slip surface - Dycem

        Plastic glassware


Titration: Add / Stir Liquids

        Large grip stirring rod

        Magnetic stirrer

        Non-slip surface - Dycem

        Plastic glassware


Titration: Liquid Measurement


        Graduated Cylinder

        Auto-Pipette or Dispenser


        Measurement during Experiment:

        Reading the Burette

        Volume by Weighing

        Approximation by Drops


Titration Setup: Auto Pipette

        Precise amount


        Blind / Visually Impaired

        Some motor impaired


Titration Setup: Automatic fluid dispensers

        Precise amount


        Blind / Visually Impaired

        Some motor impaired


Titration Setup: Syringe


        Tactile markers

        Gigs or mounts


Titration: Reading a Burette

        Food coloring for contrast

        Index card for background

        CCTV display


Titration: Volume by Weighing

        Calculate desired weight using density

        Weigh and calculate volume

        Talking scale

        Adaptations for addition of fluid


Titration: Approx. by drops

        Calibrate bottle using graduated cylinder

        Count drops


Example: Conductivity Experiment

        Auditory conductivity probe (tones)

        Visual conductivity probe (lightbulb)

        Multimeter (talking)

        Computerized sensor


Calculators for limited vision

        Betacon VisAble

        American Printing House for Blind - VisAble

        Larger keys also help students with coordination difficulties


Calculators for limited vision

        TI ViewScreen

        Teacherís Calculator

        Light Box


Talking Scientific Calculators

        AudioCalc MaxiAids

        Texas Instruments MaxiAids

        RNIB CalculatorIndependent Living Aids

        Captek - Scientific Products


ViewPlus Graphing Calculator

        Auditory graphing calculator varies pitch, volume to indicate shape

        Prints graph on Braille printer

        Can import data from another program (i.e., Vernier)


Scientific Notebook

        Edit math - math word processor

        Product for using it with Dragon voice recognition


Mavis - Nemeth Braille

        Mackichen Scientific Notebook

        Mavis converts Scientific Notebook scripts to Nemeth Braille

        Converts Nemeth Braille to text

        Audio browser for math