Lab Equipment for the Blind

There hasn’t been much new in assistive devices for the blind in laboratory equipment in the last thirty years. Chemists can still use an opticon, an optical character reader, to read science books and periodicals. Even though voice activated software is used to read digitized USA Today and other national newspapers in real time to the blind and visually handicapped, the blind still rely on volunteer readers to tape science book chapters for them. The blind must still rely on volunteers to trace raised-line drawings of the Periodic Table, electron configuration charts, and graphs. Tactile molecular model kits and models of electron orbitals, cells, and anatomy are available. These 3D models are available for purchase for any science classroom or office. Beam balances similar to the weight scale in the doctor’s office are fairly tactile, but LED read out scales must be read to the blind chemist.

The supervisor or Chemical Hygiene Officer will have to take the blind chemist on a tour of the laboratory discussing safety concerns and pointing out locations of safety equipment.

The one bright spot is that Braille thermometers have been replaced by talking thermometers. Talking thermometers are helpful for the visually impaired as well as the blind chemists. Many older chemists have difficulty reading fine print and determining the correct reading on a thermometer. There are also talking calculators, light probes, voltmeters, clocks, and watches for use in the laboratory. There are indented liquid dispensers and a liquid level detector that beeps when the liquid reaches the desired level.

Otherwise, volunteers must carve notches, put in staples, or use fabric paint at regular increments on rulers, glassware, syringes, balances, weights, mixers, heating gauges, stoves, and other science equipment to make measurements tactile. They must use textures such as sand paper and fabric paint to label items and lab areas. They may have to put an extension onto the safety shower lever so the blind chemist can find the emergency device. Auditory lab warning signals may need to be installed.

Some labs have connected instruments to computers, but there is a lag time to production of electronic notes or Braille reports that doesn’t provide immediate information for the blind chemist. Every time there is a computer or software upgrade, the instrument connections must be re-calibrated which is time consuming. Many such programs which were once available are now obsolete. Blind chemists must be assigned willing lab assistants or technicians who will describe details to the blind or visually impaired chemist and who will allow them to contribute according to their abilities.