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  5. Enabling access to the chemistry curriculum for visually impaired students

Enabling access to the chemistry curriculum for visually impaired students

Project leader(s): 
Victoria Pearson

Chemistry uses a number of visual elements including diagrammatic representations of molecule structure. Recognising and drawing molecular structures is an essential skill for chemistry. Achieving the relevant learning outcomes therefore presents problems for visually impaired students.

S215 Chemistry: essential concepts (first presentation 14J) is the first chemistry re-write to be delivered wholly online, with Level 3 chemistry modules to follow. It contains several thousands of chemical structures, either in-text or within reaction schemes, in addition to those identified in the module material as ‘figures’.

The standard reasonable adjustment for module figures for visually impaired (VI, meaning blind or with some functional sight) students is to provide extended descriptions and, in line with this, descriptions for ‘figures’ in S215 have been generated, but not for in-text structures or reaction schemes. Questions have been raised regarding their usability and online delivery has led to an increase in visual elements.

The project proposed is therefore:

  1. A survey of existing figure descriptions to ascertain usability
  2. A survey of figures/structures within S215 to identify which alternative formats are available externally or can be made in-house.
  3. Investigate viability of a pedagogically-linked figure description system.
  4. A survey of other S215 assets (e.g. 3D simulations and interactives) to ascertain their usability and identify possible alternatives.

The outcomes will be:

  1. A proposed set of reasonable and plausible adjustments by which VI students can fully access the chemistry curriculum from Level 1 to 3.
  2. Recommendations to the University based on costings for these adjustments.
  3. Development of guidance for advisors and VI students about studying modules with substantial numbers of molecular structures.
  4. Closer links between the Science Faculty and University units supporting disabled students.
  5. New collaborations with external bodies (RNIB, University of California).
  6. OU as sector leaders for accessible chemistry teaching.

Pearson, Moore, Clarke, Crabb and Carr poster (PDF)