Program aims to improve access to STEM classes for blind, visually impaired students


August 20, 2012

Arizona State University is kicking off a pilot program aimed at improving access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes for students who are blind or visually impaired.

Called 3D-IMAGINE (Image Arrays to Graphically Implement New Education), the program will use three-dimensional materials to enhance independent learning. Researchers are seeking as many program participants as possible from both ASU and the wider community. ASU senior Ashleigh Gonzales tests new 3D tactile boards Download Full Image

Beginning biology (100) and astronomy (113) lab classes each will have one section using new, 3-D tactile boards designed specifically for students who are blind or visually impaired. However, sighted students may use the materials as well.

“Textbook images typically contain important messages, whether it’s intensity or altitude, or cell structure,” said Rogier Windhorst, Regents’ and Foundation Professor in ASU’s School of Earth & Space Exploration. “We think these messages can be conveyed in a 3-D tactile just fine. While a person who is blind would have to sense the information, we believe 3-D images may open up a new world in STEM courses for students who are visually impaired.”

To test their theory, an ASU interdisciplinary research team developed a series of 3-D tactile boards that represent key textbook images. Students need to understand these images in order to successfully complete each science class. Made of high-density plastic, the boards will initially cost about $60 each, and be used in place of or in addition to traditional lab materials.

The goal is to provide an opportunity for students who are blind or visually impaired, to learn the material independently.

College level STEM courses are typically rigorous, but for blind or visually impaired students, these classes often present even greater challenges. Imagine taking an astronomy class and having to depend on someone else to accurately and effectively describe a photo of a nebula, or in biology, detail the image of a cell.

The idea to turn digital images into 3-D tactile representations originated in Debra Baluch’s upper-level Cell Biotechnology class. Baluch, a research scientist in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, taught junior Ashleigh Gonzales last spring. Gonzales is pursing a degree in molecular biosciences and biotechnology, and is visually impaired.

“She is just as capable as anyone else in the class of doing this level of science, but unfortunately, she faces a barrier,” said Baluch. “What she chooses as a career may be decided by her visual impairment, even though she has the same level of education as her peers. We can improve access to our STEM classes by providing these 3-D models which we expect will enhance independent learning in students who are visually impaired.”

“Accessible is an interesting term,” said Terri Hedgpeth, director of ASU’s Disability Resource Center. “When a student signs up for a class, we get the textbook and convert it into Braille or electronic text, and we render tactile diagrams that go along with it. That’s time-consuming and expensive,” she added. “What we are doing in this pilot program allows us to create 3-D models which provide a better tactile representation of the material. It’s very different from the line pictures we typically produce.”

If the pilot program is successful, the team hopes to lay the foundation for using the 3-D tactile boards in all 100 level STEM courses. The group is currently seeking funding from the National Science Foundation and other organizations to support the program.

“I would like to see students be inspired to take additional classes in STEM and consider majors in the STEM fields,” said Hedgpeth. “Maybe we can excite them a bit and raise their hopes for a better level of access.”

The team includes researchers from ASU's School of Life Sciences, School of Earth & Space Exploration, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and Disability Resource Center. 
 

For more information on 3D-IMAGINE, contact Rogier Windhorst at rogier.windhorst@asu.edu, or Debra Baluch at page.baluch@asu.edu.

To participate in the Biology 100 and Astronomy 113 classes, contact Cindy Jepsen at cindy.jepsen@asu.edu, 480-965-1232.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise

480-965-9865

Obesity patients report positive life changes after weight loss surgery


August 21, 2012

New research shows that people who have bariatric surgery to treat obesity report an overall improvement in quality of life – from their social lives to health conditions – after surgery. Researchers from Arizona State University presented their findings on Aug. 20 at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Obesity is an epidemic in the United States with more than one-third of adults over the age of 20 classified as obese. Bariatric surgery is an increasingly common procedure that individuals are turning to because it typically results in dramatic weight loss – sometimes of 100 pounds or more. According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, about 220,000 people underwent bariatric surgery in 2009 in the United States, up from about 13,300 procedures in 1998. Download Full Image

The paper, “Social and Health Changes Following Bariatric Surgery,” examines how patients who had the surgery fared afterward.

“We thought there would be more negative reactions to the surgery, but the response was very positive,” said study co-author Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld, ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics professor. “Most people had improvements in chronic health problems.”

Health issues that respondents reported improvements in included diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol level and sleep apnea. Study respondents also cited increased mobility as one of the positive aspects of having surgery to lose weight. Weight loss among participants averaged 95 pounds per person while the range of weight experiences was wide – from a gain of 80 pounds, which is atypical according to the researchers, to a weight loss of 260 pounds.

People who elected to have the surgery to reduce negative reactions to their weight among friends and family reported better relationships after surgery. Respondents also reported a decrease in depression after the surgery.

“This provides evidence that overcoming the stigma of being overweight, as reflected by negative reactions of others can lead to greater satisfaction among relationships with family and friends and in social life in general,” said Doris A. Palmer, co-author of the paper and a doctoral student in the School of Social and Family Dynamics sociology program at ASU. 

Satisfaction with how participants felt about their appearance was lower on average than satisfaction with other aspects after the surgery.

“They were satisfied, but not as pleased about the way they looked as with other aspects of their lives,” Kronenfeld said. “They may have hanging skin and those kinds of issues to deal with. It’s not clear if most insurance companies will cover treatment of those issues since it may be considered cosmetic.”

Researchers asked a variety of questions in the survey that was made available through an online support group for bariatric patients. Study questions examined physical health, self esteem, social life, work life, family life, mobility and satisfaction with surgery results.

Motivators to have the surgery in order were: to decrease the risk of health problems; to improve overall health; to improve appearance; and to boost self esteem. Respondents also cited the ability to be physically active, for instance being able to play on the floor with their children if they hadn’t been able to manage that in the past when they were larger. Overcoming society’s stigma of being overweight was another benefit respondents noted after losing weight.

Researchers collected data from 213 participants ranging in age from 26 to 73 years old with an average age of 50 through a self-selected sample of participants in an online support group.