Southeastern Section - 60th Annual Meeting (23–25 March 2011)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 11:20 AM


JUBB, Mary, Department of Agriculture, Geosciences, and Natural Resources, University of Tennessee Martin, 256 Brehm Hall, Martin, TN 38238 and DUNAGAN, Stan, Department of Agriculture, Geosciences, and Natural Resources, The University of Tennessee at Martin, 256 Brehm Hall, Martin, TN 38238,

Federal law requires universities receiving federal funds to adapt courses for all students, including the visually impaired. This is a challenge for introductory geology classes that rely on the visual and spatial properties and features of geologic specimens, maps, and other images to reinforce concepts. Our experiences teaching a blind student over the last year reveal many challenges in course adaptation.

Logistical challenges include Brailling text, obtaining equipment and supplies, and extra time needed for both setup and working with the student. Notes can be Brailled several days ahead, but Brailling books may take several weeks. Figures, however, cannot be Brailled, though some can be made tactile-friendly at a prohibitive cost. Acquiring the costly supplies needed by the blind student, such as Braille rulers, talking calculators, and other equipment, may also be difficult.

The educational challenges we encountered include problems with math, highly visual topics, and rock and mineral identification. Math is very visual: most people write down every step in a math problem and refer back to their work as they solve it. As a result, blind students may struggle with multi-step math problems. Teaching highly a visual topic like map reading may require an integration of map reading with mobility training. Surprisingly, learning rocks and minerals is fairly easy for most blind students, but substitutions must be made for minerals that have similar non-visual properties (e.g. plagioclase and potassium feldspar). Using density instead of color can help blind students recognize the differences between mafic and felsic rocks, for example.

Despite the challenges, rewards in adapting courses for the blind include that these changes allow students to focus on physical properties not used extensively with sighted students such as smell, taste, and specific gravity in mineral identification; 3D models are useful to all students. Once the course is adapted, the same material can be used again, and other blind students may be encouraged to take the class.