NFB EQ Project Overview

The National Federation of the Blind has initiated a five-year project with funding from the National Science Foundation that will produce annual, week-long programs (NFB Engineering Quotient, or NFB EQ) focusing on engineering design and the development of spatial ability skills for blind high school youth. Research will also examine the impact of the National Federation of the Blind, as an established community of practice, on blind high school youth and their educational and social development. Participants will be connected with the network of the National Federation of the Blind and its various divisions and affiliates, as well as scientists and educators who will inspire learning and exploration throughout the year.

The project is led by the National Federation of the Blind, in partnership with researchers at Utah State University and informal science educators from the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Programs will begin in the summer of 2018. Please visit the NFB EQ webpage if you are interested in learning more about how you can become involved.

Project Summary

Central to the project will be research into the spatial abilities of blind youth—those skills related to the use of space and the mental manipulation of objects within space. The research will be an effort to better understand how blind youth’s performance in spatial ability and reasoning tasks relate to success in STEM. The program will be a testbed for the development of model practices and nonvisual tools that facilitate that success.

While spatial ability is linked to performance in STEM, research has not been pursued as to how that ability can be assessed, developed, and improved in blind youth. Educators are often unaware of ways to deliver STEM concepts to blind students in a spatially enhanced manner, and students do not know how to advocate for accommodations, leading blind youth to abandon STEM fields. Literature on the influences of a community of practice on youth with disabilities, as well as nonvisual tools for experiencing engineering, is lacking.

The project will advance understanding of how blind people can participate in STEM, and how spatial ability can be developed and bolstered through informal engineering activities and an existing community of practice.

Over five years, the project will:

  1. Contribute to the knowledge base of effective practices regarding informal STEM education for the blind, particularly relating to the development of spatial reasoning abilities.
  2. Educate blind youth and museum personnel about the techniques, tools, and instructional practices rooted in problem solving that are used to effectively develop spatial ability skills in blind youth in informal STEM settings.
  3. Incorporate promising techniques, tools, and instructional practices from the developed interventions into ongoing programming for both blind and sighted learners.

Activities will begin in 2018 with a week-long, engineering design program for thirty blind high school students at NFB headquarters in Baltimore. Years two and three will feature similarly sized programs, taking place at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Year four will hold two such programs at the Science Museum of Minnesota. In year five, former youth participants will attend a symposium at the NFB National Convention. Youth will also participate through distance learning and additional entry points into the community of practice throughout the project. Toolkits based on project activities will be produced so that parents and educators not participating in the programs will have access to the same best practices to implement at age-appropriate milestones for their blind students.

Grant Basics

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Anil Lewis, National Federation of the Blind
  • Co-Principal Investigator: Dr. Wade Goodridge, Utah State University
  • Project Director: Dr. Natalie Shaheen, National Federation of the Blind
  • Instructional Team: Andy Chambers and Peter Anderson, Science Museum of Minnesota
  • Tactile Drawing Consultant and Instructor: Ann Cunningham, Colorado Center for the Blind
  • Evaluators: Dr. Gary M. Timko, Lifelong Learning Group

Additional Information

For more information, please contact the team at:
(410) 659-9314, extension 2418

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1712887. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.