The 37th Conference on Education for the Blind and Low-Vision (Marburg, Germany): New Ideas on Science Education for Students with Visual Impairments in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland
Authors: Marie-Luise Schütt, Sven Degenhardt, and Wiebke Gewinn (Edited by Ying-Ting Chiu)
From July 31 to August 4, 2023, the 37th conference on education for the blind and low-vision (BLV) took place in Marburg, Germany. The conference was organized by the Association of Education for the Blind and Low-Vision. For the first time since the pandemic, professionals in the field of education for BLV students from German-speaking countries met in person again. Occasionally, there would also be international attendees at the conference. (If you are interested in learning more about the conference, here is the conference program written in German. You may use web browser translation tools to read the program in other languages.)
At the historical location, Nationwide Competence Center for Persons Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision (Blista), new ideas on the participation of BLV students in science learning settings were exchanged with an emphasis on instructional strategies for math, chemistry, biology, and computer science. According to the majority of the presentations at the conference, overall, a variety of ways were sought to enable equal participation of BLV students in science education in German-speaking countries. Currently, despite legal requirements, access to materials, such as textbooks and worksheets, is not provided, so adaptations need to be made case by case. There were discussions on creating a more inclusive science learning environment in the presence of both students with or without visual impairments. Creating more tactile experiences and providing tactile materials were emphasized during these discussions. In the sense of universal design, heterogeneous grouping of students was also discussed in thinking of making schools more inclusive. In Germany, the accessibility law (Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz) ensures that accessible educational materials will have to be considered, even more, in the future.
Here are highlights related to STEM for BLV at the conference:
MuLIs from Blista (math, biology, physics, and chemistry): Blista presented MuLIs (Multimedia Learning Packages for Inclusive Education) and several applications in development. Each MuLI is designed to be accessible and interactive, composed of topic-specific application examples along with accessible materials. For instance, the MuLI "Magnetic Symbols for Chemical Structural Formulas" includes specially-made magnets in order to help learners comprehend structural formulas in a visual and tactile way. For your reference, here is an overview of available MuLIs: Blista's inclusive media and teaching materials.
Accessible structural formulas (chemistry): Dorine in 't Veld from the Netherlands presented an alternative way to make chemical structural formulas more readable with speech output. Here is an article of theirs published in 2018 if you are interested in learning more about their work: The Dutch Best Practice for Teaching Chemistry Diagrams to the Visually Impaired.
Educational materials in higher education (chemistry): Philipp Lindenstruth, a doctoral student from the Philipps University of Marburg, presented how basic concepts of organic chemistry can be made comprehensible by making observed phenomena tangible to benefit BLV students and beyond. If interested, here is Philipp Lindenstruth’s ResearchGate page for you to learn more about his research.
3D printed models (math, biology, physics, and chemistry): 3D printing was an emphasis at the conference. For instance, TAKTILES from northern Germany showed their Feel Colors products. In addition, the resources on tactiles.eu (3D Printing for VI) was introduced. This website offers print templates, guidelines and handouts for creating new print templates and 3D printed models, video tutorials, as well as information on 3D printing for BLV learners. Note: tactiles.eu is developed and produced by the 3D4VIP project co-funded by the Erasmus+ program of the European Union (with partners from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Great Britain).
Accessibility of digital tools (math): Digital tools are increasingly designed to be accessible for both learners with or without visual impairments. Arithmetico Calc and MathJax were introduced at the conference as well as Tactonom Reader, which is designed for learners from toddlers to adults.
Published in August 2023