National Center for Blind Youth in Science
At the
National Federation of the Blind
Jernigan Institute

Why is a National Center for Blind Youth in Science Needed?

Historically, academic and vocational expectations for blind students, with few exceptions, have neither elicited nor supported high academic performance.  The majority of these blind students have received especially inadequate training in science and math concepts particularly during the critical middle and high school years when a passion for a subject and career interest is best sparked.   Low expectations of students, lack of available training in non-visual teaching methods for regular educators, and fragmented resources for blind students in science have all contributed to the attitude that science is simply an area that is too hard for blind students to develop competency and be successful.  Furthermore, career opportunities for blind students in scientific fields have been limited by a false perception that they could not perform the lab tasks, data analysis and direct observations required by scientific endeavors.  Despite the artificial barriers placed on blind youth in the sciences, many have been able to develop a strong knowledge in science and math-thanks to skilled teachers, dedicated parents, and other forward thinking professionals.  Over fifty scientists with significant visual impairments have been awarded career achievement recognition by the National Science Foundation in the past several years. 

Some educators are becoming aware of this discrepancy between educational practices that needlessly limit these students and their actual potential to function well in scientific fields. Conferences such as the recent “Space Science the Special Way,” sponsored by NASA’s Southeast Regional Clearinghouse, have begun to recognize and respond to this situation, but there is a critical need for a sustained, consumer driven, effort to support and coordinate the work being done. 

The greatest body of knowledge related to the success of blind individuals in science is held within the blind scientists themselves.  Those blind people who know the critical pieces needed to spark an interest in science and the methods, non-visual techniques, and access barriers which must be faced in order for success to occur.  There is a great need for the experience of the blind to be brought together with the efforts of scientists and educators in a center of excellence that can provide blind youth with the resources and support necessary to be prepared for and pursue challenging careers in science.  Furthermore, this center of excellence will provide the scientific community with a wealth of intellectual knowledge and innovation which has previously not been available and is critically needed for future scientific leadership.

Why should the National Federation of the Blind lead this effort?

The National Federation of the Blind’s Jernigan Institute presents the best opportunity for changing the prospects for blind youth in science.  The NFB is the country’s leading organization representing the blind, a membership organization of over 50,000 members, and is uniquely positioned to bring the consumer perspective and understanding to any project it undertakes.  The Jernigan Institute is a “one of a kind” research and training facility which will house an advanced technology training laboratory as well as an extensive research and resource Library on blindness.  This Library will be the ideal focal point for locating a clearinghouse of research, resources, knowledge, and best practices related to enhancing the education of blind youth in science.  The NFB’s Science and Engineering Division, a group of blind scientists, engineers and computer scientists, provide access to successful blind professionals who are keenly aware of the challenges and needs in this arena.  Further, the expertise provided by the leadership of the NFB affiliated National Organization of Parents of Blind Children will be invaluable in designing relevant and effective programming for scientific instruction to blind children.

The Jernigan Institute has already dedicated significant funding to promoting the success of blind youth in science in a way that no one else has previously undertaken.   In 2004, the Jernigan Institute will produce two summer science camps to highlight techniques and materials which are essential to sparking an interest in science among blind youth.  These camp experiences will allow blind youth to understand the critical concepts which, all too often, are only presented in a visual format due to a lack of multimodal teaching approaches. 

What Would A National Center Do?

The establishment of a National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS) at the NFB Jernigan Institute would:

  • Establish a center of excellence for resources and information about how blind youth can best learn and understand scientific and mathematical concepts.
  • Promote opportunities for blind youth in science through demonstration projects, partnerships and public education.
  • Provide technical support to projects working to improve materials and instruction for blind youth in science and math.
  • Provide a national mentoring program built on the foundations established by the blind professionals of the NFB Science and Engineering Division.
  • Synthesize previous research relevant to blind youth in science and coordinate future research across the country to eliminate duplication of effort, build the body of experience, and create meaningful links between research and practice.

What needs to happen next?

This critical deficit in the education of blind children has gone on for far too long.  The NCBYS is the way to stimulate change in the system.  In order to establish this center of excellence, the Jernigan Institute needs financial support for the following steps:

  • Establish a program of annual science camp activities to demonstrate effective teaching techniques, including tactile and other multi-modal learning approaches, to enable successful education of blind youth in science ($50k per year for 3 years)
  • Establish an internet-based central clearinghouse to serve as the foundation for the NCBYS by pulling together all of the known resources related to blind youth and their participation in the sciences.  This will include teaching strategies, teacher networking and mentoring, student mentoring and other information to assist parents in facilitating educational opportunities.  ($20k per year for 3 years)
  • Develop new educational products, in partnerships with organizations such as NASA and the American Printing House for the Blind, to ensure that new educational products are based on the true needs of blind students in general education classrooms and that products are based on meaningful research.  ($25k per year for 3 years)
  • Create materials in videos and other media which promote educational and career opportunities for blind youth in science, inspire blind youth to pursue careers in science, and provide information on the educational supports needed to ensure that no blind child is left behind. ($20 k per year for 3 years)
  • Conduct a professional diversity awareness initiative, in partnerships with the science and engineering industry and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to highlight the meaningful contributions the blind can make in science, to provide mentoring and role models, and to create greater career opportunities for aspiring blind students.  ($20k per year for 3 years)