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Access to science by visually impaired students
Scientific studies are particularly challenging for visually impaired students. The main barriers do not concern the inherent complexity of science learning, but they are about the accessibility and usability of learning resources and tools. Especially, visually impaired university students in scientific courses, have to cope with the following difficulties:
- the lack of scientific educational resources in formats accessible through tactile and auditive perception. Although up to now many assistive tools have been designed to facilitate the access to scientific documentation (e.g. computer applications for speech or braille rendering of mathematical expressions), many issues still need to be addressed, particularly as for the choice of the digital format for the visually impaired reader and the production of accessible reading resources;
- the existence of many national peculiarities (e.g. as for the Braille codes to represent mathematical expressions) which often prevent the cross-country exchange of documentation;
- the use of audio resources. Learning scientific advanced topics only by speech is generally a time consuming process which discourages many students. Furthermore, audio books are often recorded by human readers, so they are available in national languages;
- the lack of tools fully adapted for national peculiarities (e.g. as for the language or the Braille code);
- the necessity to find assistive tools to successfully attend specific courses (e.g. to use diagrams, to work with software development environments, etc.).
The @Science project aims at establishing a transnational network about the access to science by visually impaired students. The main goals of the network are:
- collection of the latest documentation about access to science by visually impaired students (e.g. about assistive tools, about accessible digital resources, and so on);
- assessment and documentation in national languages of emerging assistive tools for science learning;
- distribution of useful tools through a web repository;
- creation of a communication network among individuals and institutions (e.g. through devoted forums and mailing lists) in order to share locally developed solutions;
- exchange of experiences and practices proven to be successful on local basis;
- communication of strategies to improve access to science by visually impaired to scientific resources providers (e.g. digital resources providers, university libraries, etc.), support services for disabled students in university, university professors, tutors and students, publishers, developers of assistive tools, associations for visually impaired and further actors involved in the process of teaching or learning science.
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