Chemistry for Christmas

A girl holding a white cane inspects equipment in a chemistry class during Youth Slam 2017.

Chemistry for Christmas

On December 12, I wrote a letter to fifty of the country’s top chemistry programs with American Chemical Society membership to alert the universities to accessibility barriers perpetuated by the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Education Examinations Institute (ACS Exams). ACS Exams produces and distributes approximately sixty different chemistry exams and related study material for use nationwide in K-12 and higher education, but does not make all of its products available in Braille.

This lack of Braille has created artificial obstacles between blind chemistry students and the advancement of their chemistry studies. Students like Ashley Neybert have been pressured to withdraw from or postpone their chemistry studies after being unable to earn passing grades on inaccessible ACS chemistry tests. Ashley withdrew from her master’s in chemistry program after ACS Exams refused to produce a Braille copy of its organic chemistry placement exam, which her school deemed a necessary part of its master’s program. The school attempted to Braille the exam for Ashley, but the resulting test was of poor quality and unusable. Ashley failed her exam, and was ultimately told that she needed to study harder. But how can Ashley study harder to pass an inaccessible exam?

Access to STEM education remains a priority area for the National Federation of the Blind. We cannot and will not let students like Ashley be driven out of their chemistry studies because ACS Exams has failed to implement a plan to produce Braille versions of its full suite of chemistry tests and claims that to do so would be impractical. Fortunately, my letter got the attention of ACS Exams’s director. After repeatedly requesting meetings with ACS Exams, it seems the organization’s leadership is now willing to meet with the NFB to discuss the need for accessible materials for blind chemistry students. I am hopeful that this meeting will occur in early 2019.

In the interim, this holiday season we invite you to think about things that can’t fit under a Christmas tree. This year, the NFB is asking for chemistry for Christmas, and we hope you will too.

Please take time to read my December 12 letter in full and to share it with chemistry teachers you know. Chemistry programs can choose not to use ACS Exams’s chemistry tests and can choose not to renew their school’s membership in the American Chemical Society. Until ACS Exams’s products are fully and equally accessible to all students, they should not be used for any students.

—Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind