Teaching science to students with vision impairment

Post date: 
Monday, 9 November 2015
Three students doing a science experiment at school.

Need inspiration for delivering inclusive and inspiring science lessons to pupils with vision impairment (VI)? Then read on to discover practical ideas and great resources from Sarah Holton, RNIB's Children and young people's officer.

Children with VI often have greatly reduced opportunities for incidental learning and the reinforcement of concepts. Science education provides important opportunities to:

  • fill any gaps in general knowledge of their development of spatial, numerical and scientific concepts
  • extend their understanding about the properties of objects and materials and biological and mechanical processes.

Resources for teaching key concepts

Accessible image books to support the teaching of key scientific concepts including titles about bones, joints and muscles, the respiratory system, forces and motion, atoms and compounds, salts and bases are available for free from the RNIB Bookshare website.

Advice for mainstream science teachers

Our Access to Education guide suggests lots of ways to help you make sure that your student with VI can access your learning experiences and achieve the outcomes. As a science teacher, you should:

  • Use the experts – talk to the pupil, specialist teachers in your school or sensory service, your SENCO, the Head of Science and science technician.
  • Be realistic, practical and pragmatic - and set high expectations.
  • Don’t be afraid to tackle core visual concepts, like light and colour – blind pupils want and need to understand the language and ideas used around these subjects.
  • Plan resources for the whole class with the child in mind - other pupils often benefit from alternative ways of presenting information, or more carefully described practical demonstrations and processes.
  • Help support staff who are not science specialists.
  • Encourage and plan independent work so the learner builds the skills they’ll need later for practical assessments and coursework.

Presenting information

Making it visible for print users

The legibility of numbers varies considerably between fonts. Talk to the child's specialist teacher for vision impairment about the best size of text to use and a clear font for numbers.

Learning by touch

If a pupil is learning braille, it is essential to have input from a qualified teacher of children with visual impairment (QTVI) from the start. You will need support to teach science to a child learning primarily by touch, and later to ensure that the child learns the correct conventions for laying out chemical formulae and equations in braille, as they need to be familiar with these before they meet them in examinations.

Essential science equipment

Most of the items listed below are widely available (some specialist equipment is available from the RNIB Online Shop or the specialist suppliers mentioned):

  • plastic syringes with notched plungers – use a Stanley knife to knotch different plungers at 5ml, 10ml, 20ml etc
  • mark up measuring cylinders with Tacti-Mark
  • paint your test tube racks, tripod legs and retort stand legs in a bright colour
  • liquid level indicator
  • talking and easy-to see timers
  • talking scientific calculator, large print scientific calculator or accessible calculator program on the pupil’s laptop or tablet
  • clear print or talking thermometer – Griffin Education sells one with an easy-to-read, large display
  • talking colour indicator from the RNIB Online Shop or Cobolt Systems – it says what colour the pupil is directing it at
  • graph paper and graph boards
  • plastic embossing film − the film rises when drawn on by a Biro or embossing tool, such as a spur wheel
  • Bumpons - great for indicating levels and measurements.
  • braille labeller and Dymo tape
  • non-scratch goggles – scratched goggles introduce new barriers to vision!
  • trays to help learners keep track of equipment
  • coloured mats and a white screen or card for additional contrast
  • auto-pipettes – Griffin Education or Philip Harris sell these
  • Wikki Stix
  • elastic bands to show changes of level in a test tube or measuring cylinder.
  • blue and red food colouring to make liquid easier to see
  • gas or battery powered lighters – they're safer than matches.

Working safely with science experiments

Risk assessment is vital. However, gaining hands-on practical experience in science is essential for pupils with VI to understand the teaching. With the right support, learners can take an active part safely. Have you considered:

  • Classroom safety – is it free of obstacles, such as school bags, with chairs tucked in when not used?
  • Collecting apparatus – decide if the pupil needs to always do this or sometimes provide a pre-prepared tray to give longer learning time and less risk.
  • The pupil’s working area – two trays, one for apparatus and one to set up the experiment, and space for a laptop or brailler. Is the area appropriately lit?

Take a look at New College Worcester’s video on how to teach a blind or partially sighted learner to light a Bunsen burner safely.

Assessment of pupils

Preparing a learner for public exams? Take a look at our online guide about access to tests and exams.

Want more?

You can download the full science section from our National Curriculum guide, for detailed guidance about how to adapt your lessons to include pupils with vision impairment.


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