2001 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2001 Table of Contents

Biology and Inclusive Education: How can they work together?

Katherine L. Myers, ATP
Assistant Director
Office of Disability Services
Wright State University
E186 Student Union
Dayton, OH 45435
E-mail: katherine.myers@wright.edu

See how, through innovative training programs, technology and creativity are used to teach high school science educators how to actively include students with disabilities in their classroom and laboratory.


The C.L.A.S.S. project is an NSF-funded program for Creating Laboratory Access for Science Students that constitutes a collaboration between the Department of Biological Sciences and the Office of Disability Services. Wright State University, which was built in 1967 to be completely accessible, has a large population of students with disabilities. The Department of Biological Sciences has developed laboratory curriculum for introductory non-majors that is universally accessible. The C.L.A.S.S. project has enabled us to disseminate these materials nationwide through: (1) development of a Source Book for science educators (grades 7 and beyond) that addresses the major disabilities and associated accommodations (2) development of accessible laboratory exercises covering the major concepts in biological sciences and (3) human resource development during the C.L.A.S.S. summer workshop where educators work with high school students with profound physical disabilities to adapt laboratory exercises. This presentation will present an overview of a very unique project designed to ultimately increases the number of students with disabilities choosing science as a profession.


Ten percent of college students have a disability. Four percent of these are physical disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act legislates equal education opportunities. The number of students with disabilities is increasing on all campuses.

As stated, federal law mandates that students with physical disabilities be allowed to participate fully in science classes, both in and out of the laboratory. On the surface this might sound easy, but can actually be very difficult. The junior or senior high school science educator usually has little to no training in working with a student with a disability and limited resources to purchase any additional equipment. They are wary of the commitment it might take to include a student with a physical disability in a laboratory setting and the amount of extra time they will have to devote an individual student. Will the student be safe? What kinds of special equipment will be needed? Will I have to change my entire curriculum? Wouldn’t it be easier just to change my expectations for this one student? Or better yet, couldn’t we just put the student in a study hall?

While teaching a student with a physical disability science in a laboratory setting can be very complex, many of the "obstacles" or misconceptions that can be easily overcome through being open-minded, creative, and using come very minor accommodations.

Since 1967 Wright State University (WSU) has been a leader in providing accessible architecture and programs. At WSU there is university wide support for individuals with disabilities including students, faculty, and staff. Through the Office of Disability Services, approximately 8700 students with disabilities (4.5 percent of the student body) are provided with support services. These services include personal, academic, vocational and adaptive technology.

The Biological Sciences Department of the college of Science and Mathematics has developed an adaptive lab section for non-majors (general education) biology. Most students with disabilities take Biology for their lab science. The C.L.A.S.S. promotes accessible science nationwide.

The C.L.A.S.S. project is a collaborative effort between the Biology Department (College of Science and Mathematics), Office of Disability Services (Student Affairs Division), and the Special Education Department (College of Education and Human Services).

The Source Book

The purpose of the source book is to assist science educators in creating laboratory exercises and environments that are universally accessible. A printed format is provided to each educator who participates in the summer workshops. An electronic format with links to each of the references is available through the C.L.A.S.S. web-site at http://biology.wright.edu/labgrant/

Summer Workshop

The C.L.A.S.S. summer workshop is a residential program held on the main campus at Wright State University for a two-week period.

Week One: During the first week ten educators from across the nation are brought to the campus to learn about disabilities and accessibility issues in addition to working in the laboratory to finalize experiments for the second week. One half day is devoted to disability awareness through an interactive workshop conducted by the Director of Disability Services and a project consultant from the Department of Special Education.

During this half day a great deal of time is spent on the misperceptions of disability, the need for communication, and the need to keep an open mind and to think "out of the box" when working with individuals with disabilities, especially severe disability.

The first step in working with a student with a disability is open communication. This begins by meeting with the student and parents and, in some cases the student’s special education teacher. This helps to prevent the misconceptions and assumptions from even forming. This also helps to draw the attention of the teachers to the student’s abilities and strengths rather than just their disability. This is helpful in laying the groundwork for the creativity and "out of the box" thinking necessary in determining exactly what accommodations and technology needs to be used by the student. This serves to also reassure the science teacher about the possibility for the student to be successful in the laboratory. Oftentimes the student and his or her parents have ideas that are very useful and easy to accomplish.

Another half day is devoted to a hands-on workshop on adaptive computers conducted by the Adaptive Technology Specialist for the Office of Disability Services. The primary focus is on adaptive input and output including: headpointing, mouth operated joy stick, mini keyboard, king keyboard, joy stick, scanning and speech output. Attention is also given to augmentative communication devices. The educators are assigned tasks on each workstation and given a time limit to accomplish each task. An in-depth discussion with the educators ends the session to talk about the impact and implications of using adaptive technology. Emphasis is placed on the length of time it can take to become proficient in the use of the adaptation. Emphasis is also placed on the expectations that can be placed on a student once he/she has become proficient in the use of the equipment. The educators quickly realize that for some students, proficiency does not mean speed. They also discover just how much effort it takes to accomplish a task when you have a severe disability.

One entire day of the workshop is focused on field trips with an introductory discussion on types of things to consider when arranging a field trip with students with physical disabilities. The sites for the field trips to be attended by the students are then visited with emphasis on whether or not the site is appropriate for students with disabilities. At the end of the day a wrap up discussion is held to discuss possible difficulties with the sites and solutions as well as elements that will make the field trip successful.

The remainder of the first week is devoted to the laboratory where the labs for the following week are worked through utilizing the various adaptations available. The teachers are exposed to both low-tech and high-tech solutions. Emphasis is placed on creativity, open-mindedness and out-of the box thinking. Emphasis is also placed on the fact that the majority of the time the adaptations are not expensive and can be made from existing materials. Some solutions are as simple as pre-measuring volumes to save time, using strap-on grip handles with wooden spoons instead of glass rods for stirring, shortening the handle on the wooden spoon and using adhesive paper to stabilize a bowl to make stirring possible. Slightly more complex solutions include using an articulating computer monitor stand as a microscope stand to allow a student using a wheelchair to use the microscope. High tech solutions include using CCTVs to enlarge specimens to either a large monitor or projector screen.

Cooperative learning is discussed a great length as an important strategy that can easily by employed in the laboratory. An example would be to divide the class into dyads (two students working together). Each student can then draw on the strengths of the other student – i.e., alternating observations with taking notes and actively discussing what has been said by the instructor and what they are observing.

Week Two:

The second week up to ten high school students with various physical disabilities are brought to the campus to provide the educators with hands-on experience in working with students with disabilities in a laboratory. The types of disabilities have included severe visual impairments, hard of hearing, mild to severe mobility impairments, and multiple physical disabilities including non-oral. Personal assistants for hygiene care, feeding and toileting are provided by the Office of Disability Services. Escorts for the students as well as one-on-one assistance for the laboratory exercises, when needed are recruited from the Special Education program at Wright State.

During the first year of the project an attempt was made to match students with appropriate computer adaptations and provide them with training on adaptive computers. This was found to not be feasible with the heavy emphasis on the science laboratory and was eliminated the second year of the project. In its place is the workshop for the educators on adaptive technology.

The students conduct the same experiments in the lab that the educators work through the prior week. They also spend approximately one and a half to two days going on field trips. Recreational activities are provided through the Campus Recreation Department and the Accessible Arts! division of the Office of Disability Services.

Wrap up discussions with the teachers are held at the end of each day to discuss issues that came up during the day – both successes and concerns.

As a part of the project, assessment tools are sent to the educators prior to the workshop to determine preparedness prior to attending the workshop. Assessment tools are repeated at the end of the workshop and surveys are sent out during the year following the workshop to determine the impact on teaching.

Also, students are assessed for their prior experience in science and attitudes towards science after attending the workshop.

All participants in the program must complete an application, submit references and provide a statement as to why they wish to attend the workshop. All applications are reviewed by the project staff. Selection criteria for the educators include a willingness to promote awareness upon returning home in order to promote change. Selection criteria for the students includes a lack of involvement in school due to disability but a desire to learn more about science.

Plans for the Future

Short video vignettes of both classroom and laboratory situations are in the process of being created. These are designed to be used in workshops which can be conducted at different locations. They will be accompanied with discussion materials and instructions for starting and stopping the videos to hold the discussions. Some of the videos are of inappropriate situations followed by a solution. The video would be stopped at the end of the inappropriate situation for a discussion as to what is incorrect or inappropriate and possible solutions. After the discussion the solution video would be played. Emphasis will be placed on the fact that there is no one solution for any situation, and, again, teachers need to be open minded and use out-of-the-box thinking.

Mini-workshops are in the process of being developed for elementary school teachers. The purpose is to increase the exposure of the student with a disability to science prior to entering high school. In turn, this would increase the likelihood of the student with a disability choosing science as a career.

Consideration is being given to establishing a chat room for holding discussions and being a locations to troubleshoot or assist educators in solving difficulties they encounter in the classroom.

All of the above will allow us to greatly increase the numbers of individuals exposed to inclusive science education and, as a result, increase the possibility for overall change and the likelihood of students with disabilities choosing science as a career.

To learn more about C.L.A.S.S. you can find us on the web at: http://biology.wright.edu/labgrant/index.html

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2001 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.