National Federation of the Blind Receives Grant from National Science Foundation

 In Advocacy, Assistive Technology, Diversity and Inclusion

Five-Year Grant Will Allow Blind Youth to Explore Engineering and Yield Innovative Research in Informal Education

Baltimore, Maryland (February 13, 2018): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will allow blind students to explore the field of engineering and provide useful educational research.

Working with researchers from Utah State University and educators from the Science Museum of Minnesota, the National Federation of the Blind will gather blind high school students from across the country to attend weeklong summer programs called “NFB EQ” (Engineering Quotient). These programs will teach engineering through hands-on activities and connect students with blind adult mentors. The NFB and its partners will research the spatial abilities of blind youth and develop model practices and nonvisual tools to strengthen those abilities. Toolkits based on project activities will be produced so that other parents and educators will be able to use these practices.

Many blind people struggle with spatial skills and mental mapping. This is primarily because blind students do not have access to educational opportunities that foster the development of these skills. Among the STEM disciplines, engineering relies most heavily on spatial reasoning skills, so these programs will provide ample opportunities for students to utilize and strengthen them. This will help blind youth to develop engineering skills, prepare them for success in STEM fields, and strengthen their ability to travel independently with a white cane or guide dog.

“A combination of lack of knowledge about nonvisual techniques and society’s low expectations for the blind prevents too many blind youth from developing spatial reasoning skills and, if they desire, participating in engineering or other fields that use these skills,” said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We have dedicated significant resources to changing this unacceptable status quo, and we thank the National Science Foundation and our partners at Utah State and the Science Museum of Minnesota for helping us accelerate our progress and broaden our reach.”
“Since we know that spatial ability is such a strong indicator of success in STEM education and STEM professions, we need to understand how it is developed in our blind youth and how they utilize it in solving engineering problems,” said Dr. Wade Goodridge, Assistant Professor in Engineering Education at Utah State University. “We can then develop methods to leverage spatial thinking and help our students have better chances to succeed. My team seeks to develop nonvisual techniques to facilitate, motivate, and open pathways towards engineering, allowing blind youth to pursue a profession they may have previously thought was not within their reach. We hope to initiate a momentum that will enhance their engineering educational opportunities.”

“At the Science Museum of Minnesota, showing those who visit us and participate in our programs that we are all scientists is at the heart of what we do,” said Alison Rempel Brown, president of the Science Museum of Minnesota. “We’re so pleased to partner with the National Federation of the Blind and Utah State University to develop ways to bring engineering education to blind students and create new pathways to success in the STEM disciplines.”

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1712887. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at


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