Creating an Accessible Chemistry Learning Experience for Students who are Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing and/or Vision Impaired

Date: February 22, 2023 12:00 pm (ET)


  • Jennifer MacDonald
    Dalhousie University
  • Nicholas Roberts
    Dalhousie University
  • Todd Pagano
    Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf
  • Annemarie Ross
    Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf
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Dr. Jennifer L. MacDonald, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.


Dr. Jennifer L. MacDonald (she/her) is a University Teaching Fellow in the Department of Chemistry at Dalhousie University. Jennifer, together with her teaching team (4 instructors and 40 undergraduate/graduate teaching assistants), delivers the First-Year Chemistry Laboratory Program to over 1600+ students each academic year.

She works to streamline administrative aspects of the lab program, improve inter-marker reliability, and teaching assistant support/professional development while redesigning the first-year chemistry lab experience using guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Her team focuses on improving accessibility in the chemistry laboratory through clarity in presentation (fonts, colour schemes, and contrast) and exploring/developing support for colour vision deficiency to reduce barriers in interpreting colour based experimental results (both in-person and online!) through iterative course design rooted in student feedback and the students-as-partners approach.

Nick Roberts, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.


Nick is currently a 5th year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Science with an Honours in chemistry and a minor in neuroscience at Dalhousie University. Nick has been active in research since his first year of university, focusing primarily on main group inorganic synthetic chemistry and density functional theory. His efforts have led to 4 publications (including one first author), ranging in topics from geometric design of molecules to dispersion modelling of heavy element systems.

Outside of his interests in chemistry, Nick has taken much pride in his teaching at Dalhousie. Nick joined the First Year Chemistry Laboratory Teaching Team during Fall 2019, where his ongoing commitment to improving his teaching and the student experience led to his recruitment to the Online Laboratory Development Team during Summer 2020. Within this team, Nick spoke fully of his ideas to improve course content whilst initiating and championing design ideas that ensured the preservation of in-person laboratory hallmarks, such as choice in experimental path, opportunities to make/learn from experimental mistakes, and establishing chemistry community, despite the 2020/2021 fully online laboratory delivery. As a Senior Teaching Assistant, he independently implemented new tutorials into the laboratory program to support students on tricky topics. Nick is currently a co-investigator/grant holder on several teaching research projects, including a colour vision deficiency (CVD) accessibility support project, an investigative project into online learning and discussion forums and a project investigating the effectiveness of new tutorial series in the First Year Chemistry Laboratory.

As acting President of the Dalhousie University Undergraduate Chemistry Society (DUUCS), Nick is committed to creating community among undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty. As well, he provides honest/critical feedback about his experiences as a chemistry student, and ensures his fellow students are informed of and connected to opportunities to get more involved in chemistry, science and campus life.

Jenn and Nick’s Abstract

The use of colour in introductory course experiments has become ubiquitous across biology, chemistry, and physics programs. Chemistry is particularly notable for its use of colour; designing experiments with colour as a guide to let students know how they are doing is both: (1) inexpensive and (2) informs the student of their progress. This, however, creates barriers for those who suffer from colour vision deficiency (CVD, often referred to as colour blindness), as they will not receive the same reassurance as their peers, and in some instances may feel they are performing the experiment incorrectly.

Global estimates for those who have some form of CVD is 8.1%. In high enrollment laboratory programs, like the First-Year Chemistry program at Dalhousie supporting over 1600+ students each year, this translates to approximately 130 students in the course. To improve the accessibility and equity of the student experience in our laboratory course, Jenn and Nick have spent the past 3 years collaboratively designing content and adding in supports for those with CVD in our student facing online and in-person laboratory content as well as in our instructor facing team training modules and workshops. During this session, Jenn and Nick will share strategies and ideas they have implemented for navigating CVD in the laboratory for students and the teaching team, as well discuss the impact this work has had on student learning, awareness, and sense of belonging within the course.

Todd Pagano, Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf


Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH) are underrepresented in the chemical sciences.  Improving the educational experience and support of students who are DHH are paramount in addressing this concern.  There are collections of best practices and educational design features for implementation in the chemistry classroom and laboratory settings that educators can use to improve the chemistry education for learners who are DHH.  There are also accommodations and assistive technologies that should be considered to generate greater student success.  Instructors often find that these implementations help not only the students who are DHH, but all students in the learning environment. Strategies and resources will be shared for the support of DHH learners in chemical education.  With proper course planning and support resources, DHH students can be (and are) very successful in the chemistry classroom and laboratory (and in the future professional workplace).


Dr. Todd Pagano is a Professor of Chemistry at Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID).  He conducts research in analytical/physical chemistry and science pedagogy and is active in involving students in undergraduate research projects in the chemical sciences.  He has been honored as a recipient of RIT’s Richard & Virginia Eisenhart Award for Excellence in Teaching, Albritton Faculty Humanitarian Award, and Faculty Mentoring Award- as well as the CASE/Carnegie U.S. Professor of the Year Award.  He was also recognized with the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Stanley C. Israel Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences and the National Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into the Chemical Sciences.  Dr. Pagano is a long-time member of the ACS and has served on both the Committee on Chemists with Disabilities and International Activities Committee.  He is a Fellow of both the ACS and the Royal Society of Chemistry.  He has consulted for the National Academy of science, served as a Fulbright Specialist, and is editor of the Journal of Science Education for Students with Disabilities.

Annemarie Ross, Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf


Annemarie Ross, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and coordinator of the Laboratory Science Technology program at the Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID). She has been awarded the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Stanley C. Israel Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences and the NTID Award for Teaching for pre-tenured faculty. She does research in the fields of Chemistry and Deaf Education. She has been a member of the ACS Committees on Chemists with Disabilities and Technician Affairs and the Macmillan Learning’s Accessibility Advisory Board. She has developed curriculum for a number of courses/programs and works to develop/standardize American Sign Language signs for STEM fields to be used with Deaf, STEM professionals/students and their interpreters.