Spatial Ability and Blind Engineering Research

August 1st, 2017 - July 31st, 2022 | PROJECT

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches and resources for use in a variety of settings. Blind youth are generally excluded from STEM learning and careers because materials for their education are often composed for sighted individuals. In this proposed Innovations in Development project, the PIs suggest that spatial acuity is an important element in order for blind persons to understand physical and mental structures. Thus, in this investigation, efforts will be made to educated blind youth in the discipline of engineering. A total of 200 blind students, ages 12-20 along with 30 informal STEM educators will participate in the program. This effort is shared with the National Federation of the Blind, Utah State University, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Lifelong Learning Group.

The National Federation of the Blind, in partnership with scholars from Utah State University and educators from the Science Museum of Minnesota will develop a five-year Innovations in Development project in order to broaden the participation of blind students in STEM fields through the development of instruction and accessible tools that assess and improve the spatial ability of blind youth. The partnership with the Science Museum will facilitate the creation of informal science content for students and professional development opportunities for informal educators. Evaluation will be conducted by Lifelong Learning Group of the Columbus Center of Science and Industry. Activities will begin in year one with a week-long, engineering design program for thirty blind high-school students at the Federation of the blind headquarters in Baltimore. Year two will feature two similarly sized programs, taking place at the Science Museum. While spatial ability is linked to performance in science, research has not been pursued as to how that ability can be assessed, developed, and improved in blind youth. Further, educators are often unaware of ways to deliver science concepts to blind students in a spatially enhanced manner, and students do not know how to advocate for these accommodations, leading blind youth to abandon science directions. Literature on the influences of a community of practice on youth with disabilities, as well as nonvisual tools for experiencing engineering, is lacking. This project will advance understanding of how blind people can participate in science, and how spatial ability can be developed and bolstered through informal engineering activities and an existing community of practice.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2019 AISL PI Meeting Poster: Spatial Ability and Blind Engineering Research
NFB SABER Year One Evaluation Report
NFB EQ Program Webpage
NFB SABER Year Two Evaluation Report
NFB SABER Year Four Evaluation Report
National Foundation for the Blind Engineering Quotient for Teachers: A Nonvisual & Accessible Engineering Curriculum

Team Members

Anil Lewis, Principal Investigator, National Federation of the Blind
Wade Goodridge, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1712887
Funding Amount: $1,799,194.00


Access and Inclusion: People with Disabilities
Audience: Educators | Teachers | Evaluators | Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Undergraduate | Graduate Students | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Education and learning science | Engineering | General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Museum and Science Center Programs | Professional Development and Workshops | Public Programs