In Your Element: Access to Chemistry

Authors: EmmaGrace Olech, Student in Short Term Programs, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)

Keywords: chemistry, Short Term Programs, Baylor University, STEM, NBC, accessibility

Abstract: A student in TSBVI’s Short Term Programs describes her experiences while participating in the “In Your Element: Access to Chemistry” class. This class is an ongoing partnership between Short Term Programs of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) and Baylor University's chemistry department to provide accessible instruction for students who are blind or visually impaired. Image: EmmaGrace and Levi, a Doctoral student, in the chemistry lab at Baylor University, using a pipette to do an experiment.

An adolescent in a lab coat holds a pipette to a test tube while an adult in safety goggles stands beside her in a chemistry lab.

My name is EmmaGrace Olech, and I have had the immense privilege of participating in the “In Your Element” chemistry class. This is a Short Term Program at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). In this program, high school students visit Dr. Bryan Shaw’s wonderful biochemistry lab, and the labs of other professors, at Baylor University to conduct experiments, meet inspiring blind and visually impaired scientists, and explore the many facets of the field of chemistry. This program is in its second year, and I have had the pleasure of attending it both years. It has truly been a life-changing experience. It has helped me appreciate the beauty of chemistry and realize the viability of careers in chemistry, and other STEM fields, not just for myself, but for other blind and visually impaired students. Speaking with capable scientists who have overcome the many challenges of pursuing their dreams of working in a science field has given me the drive and determination to master concepts and skills I may need in studying chemistry in college. These blind and visually impaired scientists work in a variety of fields, completely shattering the stigmas against them by succeeding in STEM occupations.

I was honored to be interviewed by NBC at the most recent session of the “In Your Element” program. I was overjoyed to have this opportunity to provide a testimony about my experiences at this class that have been so instrumental in helping me gain confidence in exploring fascinating chemistry topics. The work Dr. Shaw and his students are doing to make chemistry accessible for me and my peers is truly revolutionary. Thanks to the creative tools they have implemented to help us learn chemistry, careers in chemistry are now more attainable than they have ever been before, not just for the blind and visually impaired community, but for the sighted community as well.

Helen Benton, Emma’s teacher in TSBVI’s Short Term Programs (STP), added: 

We are so appreciative of Dr. Bryan Shaw’s lab for welcoming our students and taking an interest in the experiences of blind and visually impaired learners. It is encouraging to see professionals in higher education take an interest in the needs of our students, and endeavor to create accessible spaces and materials for all! I hope that this is among the first of many college labs to consider how blind and visually impaired students will access their courses and contribute to the scientific community.

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