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Welcome to ILAB - Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind

ILAB was a Research in Disabilities Education project supported by the National Science Foundation under grants HRD-0435656 and HRD-0726417. The ILAB project led to the establishment of Independence Science, a company that offers equipment and services to students who are blind and visually impaired, as well as to schools and teachers, to enable more effective participation in laboratory science.

Click to watch the interview with Dr. Lillian Rankel , who describes her experiences with participation in the ILAB project and further developments of the technology.

Watch videos on:
     Talking tools for science experiments
     Safely setting up and organizing a laboratory bench
     Safely conducting laboratory experiments

The goal of ILAB was to raise the expectations of high school and college students who are blind and visually impaired (VI), as well as educators of these students, in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-related subjects. This has been achieved through the development of speech-accessible tools as well as modified laboratory procedures, which enable students who are blind and VI to perform laboratory experiments without sighted assistance. This changes the laboratory experience by giving students a more active and independent role.

Laboratory tools and techniques were developed at Penn State, Truman State, and at partner high schools. These tools were pilot tested at Penn State and Truman State. They are now being used in science laboratories at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) and at several other schools in which students who are blind or VI learn in mainstream environments. A series of studies (involving controls in which the experiments were done in the traditional way) have been completed. The project used attitudinal assessments and interview data to determine the educational value of unassisted laboratory experiments for students who are blind and VI.

Laboratory Tools for Students who are Blind and Visually Impaired

The ILAB project applied text-to-speech software with the commonly used laboratory tools LabQuest and Logger Pro. (click the Laboratory Tools tab to see a description of the latest tools and techniques).

The software interface Logger Pro, available from Vernier software and technology, which interfaces to commonly used laboratory probes (e.g., thermometer, pH meter, and UV-vis Spectrometer), was used in conjunction with a PC along with the speech output software package for the advanced screen reader, Window-Eyes or JAWS. JAWS (Job Access for Windows Software) is one of the speech output programs most commonly used by blind people today. Digital barcoding and Braille labeling of chemicals, glassware, and molecular models have also been found to be useful as teaching tools.

The portable data collection hardware interface used with Logger Pro is the LabQuest. It can collect data from over 70 different sensors. Some commonly used and recommended sensors are shown below. The tool can be synched to record and announce scientific data at varied intervals. In titrations and related chemistry experiments it can also announce data per drop when the drop counter shown below is used. This apparatus allows the user to deliver consistent drops of a liquid into a solution.
Images of the motion detector, the differential voltage probe, and the drop counter, which are recommended probes for a student who is blind to use in physics and chemistry experiments.

           Motion Detector                                        Differential Voltage Probe                                                Drop Counter

Image showing the ID mate summit. This tool is used to identify items through a product's bar code or UPC. It is wrapped in black plastic and comes with a carrying strap and uses 4 navigation buttons to control the device.
The Portable ID mate Summit aids in the identification of items using the product's bar code or UPC. Useful information can be included on the label, such as concentration, purity, and safety hazards. The use of the ID Mate allows a student to identify the chemicals that are on a lab shelf or under a hood. This device is small enough that it can be worn on a belt around the student's waist during the class.

Some of the materials presented here are based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grants HRD-0435656 and HRD-0726417. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these materials are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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