Nonvisual Curriculum Design – Accessibility

Nonvisual Curriculum Design

Idea

Designing and evaluating curriculum for a nonvisual soldering workshop.

Role

Facilitator, curriculum designer, researcher, accessibility designer

Documentation

Ability Project Blog post, February 28 – March 1, 2020 at NYU ITP in New York City

Go to video transcript

Research Question

How can we design curriculums to increase access to learning soldering non-visually?

Problem

Blind and low vision learners are underrepresented in STEM and maker culture, both of which are historically inaccessible.

Obstacle

  • There is a significant underrepresentation of practitioners in STEM who identify as having a disability.
  • There is inequity and inaccessibility of maker spaces and culture as well as the incorrect assumptions and low expectations about what blind and low vision learners are capable of.
  • Acknowledgement of the STEM gap often results in discussing its cause rather than proactively setting learners up for success.
  • There are few community locations, materials, and mentors needed to facilitate these nonvisual STEM activities.
  • Teachers who are sighted or lack BLV training bring their own instructional biases and are generally unaware of nonvisual techniques. For fundamental STEM skills, nonvisual learners have limited access to instructors who identify as BLV and can teach accessible making.

Related Work

Our research builds upon lessons learned from foundational nonvisual soldering methods and a 2016 pilot workshop by LightHouse. These resources are intended for intermediate BLV electronics learners, while our workshop focused on beginners. Though the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) instruction of the maker community is written in a language for beginners, it lacks nonvisual methods. Our work addresses this gap in curricula design literature.

Solution

We designed and evaluated a nonvisual soldering curriculum with a three-day workshop. We recommended future workshops provide tactile and textual instruction and standardize materials.

Research Method

We ran a three-day workshop, led by a blind nonvisual soldering expert and facilitated by a blind nonvisual technology educator and a sighted accessibility researcher. We hosted 12 attendees who identified as BLV and had an interest in learning nonvisual methods for circuit building.

Findings

Fixed Instruction Pacing

While some attendees were able to keep up with the instructor, others wanted the pacing to slow down. We observed some attendees requesting the repetition of instructions and additional time to catch up. In addition to volunteer support, we provided a tactile schematic as a reference, but observed that they were only helpful if the person had prior experience with them.  

Confidence With Materials

We observed all attendees develop confidence and comfort with the materials, their workspace, and operating hot soldering irons. They also mastered techniques such as tinning, installing components on a circuit board, and soldering a joint. While attendees achieved confidence and safety with materials and workspace, we observed challenges with the variance of the tools we used and the intricacies of the circuit board. Our soldering irons were manufactured by a range of brands and needed verbal description and explanation of how each one functioned. As the circuit board became increasingly crowded, navigating spaces within a 1/10th of an inch (a common circuit board distance) was challenging, especially when attendees did not customize the layout of their components.

Conclusion

Provide Tactile and Textual Instruction

We advise supplementing spoken instruction with tactile and textual instruction to support multiple learning styles and pacing. Specifically, we recommend supplying attendees with a tactile schematic for a functional representation of the project’s circuit; and that all instructions be available as electronic text for screen reader access. This supports attendees who need tasks repeated or would like to work ahead. Tactile and textual instruction allow attendees to have more independence from the instructor, practice their new skills at home, and share with colleagues. These instructions can also inform future curricula design.

Standardize Workshop Materials

For future workshops, we recommend giving participants identical soldering irons, specifically a temperature-controlled, chisel tip soldering iron paired with an analog station featuring a tactile temperature knob and power switch.

Six attendees sit at a long conference table at a blind soldering workshop, set up with individual soldering stations that include soldering mats, fans, helping hands, tools, a tactile schematic, and soldering irons. In the foreground, Josh Miele hands a circuit board to an attendee.
At the end of a conference table, an attendee focuses and holds their soldering iron, while a volunteer observes.
Volunteers gather around Josh Miele and listen intently as he demonstrates a step in building a continuity tester.
A tactile schematic of a continuity tester with alligator clips, a wire cutter, forceps, and the finished project laying around its perimeter.
Close up of hands exploring a tactile schematic of a continuity tester.
A long conference table, full of attendees, is set up with individual soldering stations with soldering irons, fans, vices, and soldering mats. In the foreground one attendee guides another's hand across their circuit board held by a vice at their soldering station.
A grid of photos shows the process of landmarking using forceps. Clockwise: the instructor helps an attendee use locking forceps to landmark where to put the tip of the soldering iron, the attendee lines the end of the solder up with the end of the forceps, the attendee uses the soldering iron tip to feel for where the end of the solder lines up with the forceps.
Close up of an attendee placing their hot soldering iron tip at the base of the forceps, clamped to their circuit board, while solder smoke billows up towards them.
Tom Igoe watches an attendee who is concentrating intently on soldering at their soldering station. Delicate plumes of solder smoke can be seen wafting up from the tip of the iron.
An attendee places their hands atop a bare soldering mat, with small trays spanning across the very top of the mat for small components. At their 12 o'clock is a fan and to their 2 o'clock is a soldering iron and vice.
Regine, one of the volunteers, faces one of the attendees smiling widely, her head tilted to the side, propped up on her hand.
Two volunteers and Josh Miele lean over the shoulders of attendees—seated at their soldering stations at a long conference table—smiling and assisting.
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