Kids and adults who are blind and low-vision get hands-on STEM training
Student partners with the National Federation of the Blind, Colorado Center for the Blind and MSU Denver faculty members to hold accessible science workshops.
When Charis Glatthar lost her vision four years ago, she didn’t let it stand in the way of her passion for science. The Environmental Science student, who will graduate this spring, immediately began advocating for herself inside and outside of the classroom. She also became a strong advocate for other blind people.
A culminating event in her Metropolitan State University of Denver academic career, the STEM workshop for blind and low-vision middle school, high school and potential college students April 22 provided hands-on lessons in microbiology, genetics, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, environmental science and physics. The workshop gave the participants an opportunity to explore different branches of science while also learning about the dynamics of college.
“I started volunteering with the National Federation of the Blind, and I thought, ‘How cool would it be for these kids to actually go on a college campus and be taught by college professors?’” Glatthar said. “And it would give these professors the opportunity to work with blind kids and see how to make their material accessible at the same time.”
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The idea for the program was inspired by Glatthar’s experience putting together learning boxes for the NFB and Colorado Center for the Blind during Covid as a way for blind kids to continue getting hands-on lessons. She helped design science-themed boxes of materials that were delivered to the kids, and then they would hold Zoom sessions with instructors who had the same materials. The learning boxes were so successful, the NFB brought in Glatthar for additional science-based programming.
She said MSU Denver Professors Vida Melvin, Ph.D.; Nicolette Giasolli; Helene Ver Eecke, Ph.D.; Alycia Palmer, Ph.D.; Sarah Schliemann, Ph.D.; Grant Denn, Ph.D.; and Azure Avery, Ph.D., along with Laboratory Coordinator John Martinez, were eager to participate. “These professors are really taking a leap to make their coursework and their materials accessible and learn how to teach in a way that’s not necessarily visual,” Glatthar said.
Throughout her time at MSU Denver, Glatthar has never stopped working to open doors for others to follow in her footsteps. In addition to organizing the STEM workshop and working part-time at Independent Science, she’ll present two research papers this spring: one on accessible methods of collecting precise amounts of chemicals and one on the discrimination of blind people by rideshare drivers.
“I’ve gotten really passionate about trying to help people become more aware (of the blind community) because we’re such a small population that it’s really easy to get overlooked,” she said. “I’d like to get to where the assumption isn’t made about what we can or can’t do.”
Always one to practice what she preaches, Glatther wants to get a second job in a science field when she graduates. It’s all part of her grand plan to make the world more accessible, not only for people who are blind but for everyone.
“A ramp for a wheelchair also helps people who use walkers or have strollers,” she said. “And the same is true with any piece of technology. They’re finding that the talking lab quests that I use in Chemistry are beneficial for people with autism who don’t do well with visual stimuli. There are always benefits for more than just one group of people. And I think that sometimes society forgets that.”