Communicating Beyond Visuals: Materials to Support Blind and Visually-Impaired Students in an Introductory Geology Course

Wednesday 1:30-2:30pm PT / 2:30-3:30pm MT / 3:30-4:30pm CT / 4:30-5:30pm ET Online
Share-a-Thon Part of Share-a-Thon


Annie Klyce, Vanderbilt University
Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia


We will demonstrate representative activities, materials and notes that we created with and for our blind student. Participants will have the opportunity to discover these instructional tools as the student, without being able to see the materials. We will also explain the teaching methods we used as the lab and lecture instructors to help the student through the learning process, and share feedback from the student themselves about the adaptive process.


An introductory geology course can be daunting to students even with full use of their eyes, but students who are blind or visually-impaired experience a new world of challenges. Common, visual-based tasks include interpreting maps of patterns around plate boundaries, observing patterns of earthquakes in a subduction zone, and interpreting Earth's interior structure based on how seismic waves are seen to travel through the Earth. In Spring 2020, we developed and implemented tools such as wooden blocks to make a tactile fault, used craft supplies such as yarn and Wikki Stix © to model subduction zones, and used a PIAF machine and Braille label maker to create accessible plate boundary maps. Our blind student used these materials to successfully meet the course objectives, including describing patterns of volcanic activity along plate boundaries, identifying crystal faces, and interpreting igneous textures of samples in class. She used her more refined tactile sense to make astute observations that many introductory geology students may neglect to notice (such as using cleavage planes instead of the color to correctly identify a mineral) which taught us new ways to teach these concepts.


These activities and tools were designed to be used in lecture and lab of an introductory level geology course for students with vision impairments or blindness. They are simple and cost-effective to replicate, and can be reused. Many activities can also be used with students who have full use of their vision to help develop a deeper or stronger understanding of the materials presented.

Why It Works

The geosciences as a discipline have historically struggled to provide inclusive and accessible instruction for students with disabilities, resulting in a lack of diversity. By focusing on the student's strengths and iteratively adapting lecture and lab materials based on her feedback, we are able to provide adapted rather than alternative assignments, removing a deficit mentality. In addition, the materials helped create an engaging environment for students to practice communicating their visual observations verbally or through gestures with which the blind student could physically engage. Students having the opportunity to explain their different modes of learning and varying thought processes provides a whole new world of teaching and learning for all those involved.

Presentation Media

Materials developed for blind/visually impaired students (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 11.6MB Jul13 20)
Share-a-thon Lightning Talk (Quicktime Video 17MB Jul13 20)

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