It is essential to make education accessible for all students, but the sad reality is that many students with disabilities get left behind in science. How can teachers make science accessible to students with different kinds of disability? Let’s explore different resources you should consider for your own classroom.
NSTA: Science for Students with Disabilities
NSTA provides a list of resources that teachers can incorporate for students with disabilities. They include resources to accommodate students with specific disabilities, and they are grouped into major categories: physical and cognitive disabilities.
This page also includes resources that should be considered for all students with disabilities, such as the concept of universal design and IEP’s. Universal design is an incredibly important framework that should be incorporated in al lesson plans, lab experiments, and instruction in general.
Universal design is an incredibly effective teaching framework that aims to support students of all abilities and learning styles. Universal design done effectively ensures that information is easily accessible and digestible for students with various learning disabilities. For more information on universal design and what it is, check out The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design.
The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design defines universal design as,
“…the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.”
Basically, universal design means that a teacher presents information in a variety of ways in order to be accessible to every student in the classroom. This includes verbal lectures, images, hands-on activities, written handouts, and demonstrations in each lesson. Universal design can be challenging and time-consuming to incorporate into your classroom, but when well done it can leave a lasting impact on your students.
Individual Education Programs and 504 Plans
Students with disabilities who need special educational accommodations utilize two blueprint plans in order to be provided support and services. Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans are federal educational support services are two major ways that public and charter schools provide accommodations to eligible students with disabilities. These services are of no cost to families and students who are eligible to enroll in these programs. These services are an essential tool for special needs educators, but it is important that all teachers be aware and knowledgable about these services.
While IEPs and 504 plans both provide educational support and accommodations, they work a little differently from each other. Section 504 is a broad federal civil rights law that protects students with disabilities in public and charter schools. 504’s are not specifically included within special education, but provide civil rights and protections for students with disabilities. 504 plans outline services that must be provided to special needs students and creates a blueprint for how schools will provide services and accommodations.
IEP’s provide an individualized plan for students and a roadmap for their educational experience. This roadmap will detail the specific services and accommodations that the student will require in order to meet educational standards. IEP’s also set learning goals for the student and the modifications and accommodations the student will need in order to achieve those learning goals.
IEP’s and 504 plans go hand in hand in order to ensure student success. If you want to learn more about the differences between IEP’s and 504 plans, check out this handy chart from Understood.
What Can Science Teachers Do?
With all of these resources in mind, one big question remains: what can you do as a science teacher to enhance the learning experience of students with disabilities? I suggest three important solutions.
- Communicate with the student, their parents, and individuals included in the IEP plan. This will ensure that you will provide the best experience possible for the student.
- Incorporate universal design to meet the specific needs of each student. Challenge yourself to find creative ways to incorporate universal design in your classroom. Research effective methods and find out what works best with your students.
- Educate yourself about the needs of students with different disabilities, and understand that each student and their experience is unique. No two students have the same set of needs, but educating yourself can help you be better prepared.
In my experience, making sure that all students have the best educational experience is so rewarding as an educator. Meeting the needs of all students can be incredibly challenging, but I encourage you to work hard in order to give your students the best experience possible.
I hope you are able to find the resources you need to make this possible!