Method Section: ENABLING STUDENTS WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED TO SUCCEED AT SCIENCE CAREERS A MASTER’S PAPER
This section discusses the following methods used to review the knowledge base:
- Analysis of the data
- Thorough library-directed peer review of the relevant databases and
- Review of specialized and other publications related to education and training for students who are blind, especially in training them for STEM-related careers.
Sadly, the data are of poor quality when concerned with blindness and visual impairment. This author suspects that the people performing the 2000 census did an excellent job. The problem was the people at the census did not ask the right questions. The result is individuals who are blind or visually impaired did not get accurately counted. They were included with another group of individuals with disabilities. As a result, what the word “blind” means is unclear, or, as far as the Census Department is concerned, includes people who have hearing impairment. Issues relating to people who are blind are different from issues relating to people with hearing difficulties. This datum problem makes it difficult to count and allocate resources appropriately. [The forthcoming Discussion section will discuss this issue and issues related to scholarly work in more detail.]
This work is an outgrowth of a study of the literature of peer- review publications. The review was of the ten year period 1996-2006. The subject was science education instruction in grades K-12 for students with disabilities that affect the ability to see, hear, or walk (Solkoff, 2006). The study was conducted under the supervision of Prof. Gregory Kelly, who is also the editor of Science Magazine. Dr. Kelly suggested relying on the expertise of Dr. Justina O. Osa at the superb Paterno-Pattee Libraries at The State University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Osa was extremely helpful in ensuring that the correct search engines were used in the most effective manner and in selecting the names of publications she regarded as “most influential” in the field and she gave, without hesitation. the names of the publications listed below. The author used the following search engines:
- Educational resources information center
- (ERIC)Professional development collection (Education)
- ProQuest Direct (newspapers, magazines, business
- Psychology databases and
- PubMed (Medicine).
- Also, singled out for individual search were the following publications:
- (a) International Journal of Science Education;
- (b) Research in Science Education;
- (c) Research in Science & Technical Education;
- (d) Technical Education; and
- (e) Science Education.
The results of the search were disappointing. Included in the literature review were all significant publications in the sciences and in education. In the past 10 years these publications have decided not to foster empirical research leading to studies on the effort to teach science to children with disabilities. The major publications do not yet realize the broader significance of the advances made in teaching science to students who are blind. Newsworthy was the event on July 23, 2007 at the National Federation for the Blind’s Baltimore, MD science fair. For the first time, 500 high school students who are blind and who are interested in science got together in one location and met with role model scientists who are also blind. The students at the meeting requested additional assistance in learning chemistry and even astronomy—is this not the subject of articles and studies to further the knowledge base? Dr. James T. Herbert, Professor-in-Charge, Rehabilitation Counseling Program, suggested that this work concentrate on the experience of individuals who are blind. Following this advice has helped to focus on individual problems to provide suggestions for a solution. One likely solution, STEM careers, is a solution of special interest to this study. This study coincides with current interest in the community of individuals who are blind to consider science careers. It also coincides with on-going assistive technology currently under development. Talk, for example, to Cary Supalo, a chemistry graduate student at The Pennsylvania State University who is blind. Supalo is currently in the process of developing chemical probes so that a chemist who is blind can hear on his or her computers the color name resulting from a test. Supalo has developed other probes, which are currently working and available from Supalo National Science Foundation web page.
Using a Supalo probe, one inserts a probe into a computer and a synthetic voice sounds out the answer. See Supolo’s web site:http://www.nfbcal.org/s_e/list/0272.html Marvel at what a work of genius and perseverance this on-going web page represents. In addition to this study’s performance of peer-review articles, much attention has been given to the specialty and related literature and data which provide considerable insight on the situation of individuals who are blind. Also, included in the specialized non-empirical literature is a discussion of STEM literature and data. The next two points worthy of focus is recognition of the magnificent contribution of Helen Keller to all of us and an appreciation of Mississippi State’s Rehabilitation Facility. Afterward, are subjects worthy of special focus and possible empirical study self-image and role models.
The work of Helen Keller must inspire all of us who work to better the conditions of the blind in our own way. Helen Killer was also deaf. The quality of her autobiography pointed to a mind unfettered by disabilities. Helen Killer is our role model. A reading of Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life comes as a tremendous surprise—especially in the beautiful way she uses the English language. Listen to the way she mentions her disability for the first time in the book.
She writes: “I lived, up to the time of the illness that deprived me of my sight and hearing. in a tiny house consisting of a large square room and a small one in which the servant slept.”
She has a sense of who she is and what is important to her and how to make that known. Somehow, in the quality of the writing and the gentile but thorough accounts of what it is like to live with disabilities, the reader realizes that he or she is inside Helen Keller’s mind finding out what Keller sees that is important. What is important to Helen Keller is the recognition that people with serious diseases are entitled to rest now and then. Even so she had a seize-the-day (carpe diem) philosophy that lasted all her life. Every day was an important day to smell a rose, to go for a walk, to read poetry, and to think. Keller’s joy about learning and the learning process is the most important point she makes.
Consider the following words of Helen Keller: “Even in the days before my teacher came. I used to feel along the boxwood hedge, and, guided by the sense of smell, would find the first violets and lilies”
Since its founding in 1981, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State is a beacon of hope for anyone concerned with the problems of the blind. The Center encompasses a library of readily accessible scholarships, including empirical research reports over the internet.
- Dr.Elton Moore, Professor and Director of the Center, is the author or coauthor of hundreds of articles on rehabilitation and blindness. In one article he looks back at the past 100 years, when the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness was previously called New Outlook for the Blind.
Dr. Moore writes of previous practice:, “Brief summaries were commonly pushed in the journal that highlighted the activities of individual workshops for people who were blind that were held through the United States, the majority of these courses offered lessons in broom or mop making and chair caning for men and basket weaving and knitting for women. Employment of people who are blind or visually impaired was typically defined in these early issues of the journal in a narrow economic sense as it related to simply earning money. Little or no attention was devoted to upward mobility or career advancement, finding jobs that were consistent with an individual’s abilities or interest, or other career opportunities.” By writing so prolifically about individuals who are blind and writing in such useful detail about the realities of the situation, Dr. Moore furthers the cause of giving blind individuals access to long-term careers.
One major issue people who are blind face is self-image. Castellano (2006) writes that a major problem students face who have been blind most or all of their lives is how they feel about their disability. Callano is helpful when she suggests that feeling sorry for someone who is blind gets in the way of the blind person’s dignity. Here is Costellano’s argument: “We have choices in the way we view blindness/visual impairment. We can view the blind/VI student as helpless—or we can choose a can-do approach and teach the student skills. We can believe that blindness/visual impairment is sad and we can feel sorry for the student, or we can decide it’s okay to be blind/visually impaired. We can blame blindness for any lack of achievement or problem in school or we can search for the real culprit which might be a lack of appropriate materials or the lack of training in a skill.”
The marine biologist Dr. Geerat J. Vermeij (to be discussed in the Role Model subsection) has been completely blind since early in life. In his autobiography Dr. Vermeij writes that he does not allow the risks involved with being blind get in the way of the even larger risks involved in not living life to the full, “[T]here is nothing about my job that makes it unsuitable for a blind person. Of course, there are inherent risks in the field work. I have been stung by rays, bitten by crabs, and detained by police who mistook my partner and me for operatives trying to overthrow the government of their African country, and I have slipped on rocks, scraped my hand on sharp oysters and pinnacles of coral, and suffered from stomach cramps. There isn’t a field scientist alive or dead who hasn’t had similar experiences. Life without risk is life without challenge; one cannot hope to understand nature without experiencing it firsthand.” A strong advocate of self-determination for the visually impaired is the sociologist C. Edwin Vaughan who writes, “As I have often repeated, the only significant difference between the blind and others is the amount of vision, and with proper education and training this one difference can be reduced to little more than a nuisance.” For infants and early children, the issue of being blind does not affect negatively the future student’s abilities. Of special concern is a person who suddenly becomes blind at 40 or 50 or at an age where blindness comes as a surprise. Then, work on grief at the loss of sight ought to figure prominently in the literature. Loss of one’s eyesight is a terrible loss. The situation with regard to blind pride is most clearly shown in a National Federation of the Blind (NFB) DVD in which the speaker in Episode One boasts kindly of the contributions people who are blind are making to our civilization as a way of denigrating people who have sight. Advocates for certain groups in the hearing-impaired movement suggest the not hearing is better than hearing and those children who have an opportunity to achieve hearing (or a much enhanced sense of it) not perform the operation and the child is better off not hearing and remaining part of a not-hearing community.
The community of people who are blind have not committed themselves to an extreme position. For many students who are blind issues relating to loss of sight are not relevant. These students will probably be blind all their lives and they have created for themselves a new and satisfying way of living. The other issues relating to adults who become blind is not within the purview of this study. Perhaps, Castellano and others whose experiences coying with blindness will be discussed here are correct. Perhaps, feeling sorry for someone who cannot see is inappropriate. Perhaps, the lost skill of sight can be replaced by learning other skills. Perhaps, people who are attracted to helping individuals who are blind are motivated for reasons of empathy which interfere with a can do spirit. Your author has met with, spoken to, and read biographical works of blind men and women who displayed a remarkable sense of drive, ambition, and love of life that cannot be adequately expressed in words. As someone who has a major disability—a mobility disability—the perspective this author brought to this issue is one of gratitude toward people who helped when help was needed. Perhaps the motivation of people who helped was not ideal, but they helped and that is what mattered.
Simon Kreindler, a Toronto-based child psychiatrist, says that the use of role models is most effective during the period of late adolescence and early youth—from ages 11 to 22. “Here in Canada we have institutionalized role models on a more widespread basis than in the States through regular practices of a role model inviting a student to the work environment. Making use of role models to assist in encouragement of science careers for students who are blind might be quite effective,” Dr. Kreindler says. (S. Kreindler, M.D., personal communication, telephone, August 15. 2007.) The educator Carol Castellano recommends that students who are blind study the lives of two individuals who became successful scientists and who are blind.
One of the role models Castellano cites is Geerat J. Vermeij, who is permanently blind, received a B.A. degree from Princeton and a PhD. from Yale in biology and geology. Vermeij has published five books and more than 160 learned articles and papers in such periodicals as the American Naturalist, Paleobiology, Transactions of the Royal Society, and Science. His study of marine biology, especially mollusks and the link between marine life to evolutionary forces, has earned him the MacArthur Fellowship. This Fellowship is popularly known as the “genius fellowship,” because of the intellectual strength of its recipients, the size of the award, and the absence of restrictions on people receiving the grants.
The Public Broadcasting System has produced a television documentary on Vermeij’s work. The second role model Castellano cites is Abraham Nemeth, who is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, Michigan. Nemeth, G., J., who was born blind, received his master’s degree in psychology from Columbia University and his PHD in mathematics from Wayne State University.
Castellano writes, “Dr. Nemeth says that he was discouraged from making mathematics his undergraduate major by vocational counselors because of his blindness and the lack of braille materials. He acquiesced and switched to psychology instead. But take a look at the courses he chose for his electives at college—analytic geometry, differential and integral calculus, modern geometry, statistics—any math course he could get his hands on.” When the Braille code proved inadequate for the requirements of academic mathematics, Nemeth developed what is now regarded as the authoritative Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Scientific Notation. He also developed MathSpeak, a protocol for reading mathematical text. Nemeth’s on-going work in computer studies continues this professor’s efforts to improve tools for communicating mathematics. Castellano believes that Vermeij and Nemeth are worthy of attention not only because of their accomplishments. Castellano points out that counselors discouraged both Vermeij and Nemeth from pursuing their scientific studies. She believes that studying role models can generate in students who have visual disabilities encouragement to pursue careers requiring lengthy periods of education and intellectual challenges. Consider, for example, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s current Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services web page which lists a wide variety of services. One program, for example, “assists persons operate food service businesses in commercial, industrial or governmental locations. Food services can range from a vending machine route to the management of a large cafeteria.” While the web page does, indeed, offer “vocational and college training,” careers involving challenging intellectual skills receive little attention. Compare the web page with the way Vermeij describes one aspect of his career: “The process of discovering new facts, of adding to knowledge, of building a body of theory based on one’s own work and the accumulated knowledge of others, is immensely rewarding. I learn every day, and I enjoy communicating what I have learned and what I think I know to others. For me, the preferred medium is the written word. I also enjoy lecturing or leading discussions in my classes.