Teaching Lab Courses To Students With Disabilities

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D., University of Washington
in Information Technology and Disability, 3 (2), 1996

As scientific fields make increasing use of technology, new opportunities emerge for people with a variety of abilities. When students with disabilities and science teachers form learning partnerships, the possibilities for academic and career success multiply. Some students with disabilities have conditions that are invisible; some are visible. Their challenges include gaining knowledge and demonstrating knowledge. In most cases, it takes just a little creativity, patience, and common sense to make it possible for everyone to learn and contribute.

Below I have summarized some examples of alternative arrangements that can be made. They come from participants in the DO-IT project at the University of Washington. DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation. It makes extensive use of computers, adaptive technology and the Internet to increase the successful participation of people with disabilities in academic programs and careers in science, engineering, and mathematics.

Gaining Knowledge

Many students with disabilities face challenges to gaining knowledge. Examples of specific challenges and accommodations follow.

Demonstrating Knowledge

Some students with disabilities cannot demonstrate mastery of a subject by writing, speaking, or by working through a problem in a lab. Many of the accommodations for gaining knowledge can help the student demonstrate mastery of a subject as well. Examples of other accommodations follow.


The examples provided demonstrate a wide variety of alternatives for helping a student fully participate in science labs. Since each person's situation is unique, the best solutions for maximizing participation come about when the student and teacher work together to develop creative alternatives that address the specific challenges faced by students with disabilities.

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Sheryl Burgstahler
Last updated: Feb 4, 1998