Nonvisual Curriculum Design
Designing and evaluating curriculum for a nonvisual soldering workshop.
Facilitator, curriculum designer, researcher, accessibility designer
Ability Project Blog post, February 28 – March 1, 2020 at NYU ITP in New York City
How can we design curriculums to increase access to learning soldering non-visually?
Blind and low vision learners are underrepresented in STEM and maker culture, both of which are historically inaccessible.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.