16 November 2020

Making Science Accessible for All

Posted by Shane Hanlon

Dumbrepatil using potatoes and hydrogen peroxide to explain enzyme mechanisms at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. Credit Arti Dumbrepatil

By Arti Dumbrepatil

How hot is Jupiter? Can you show the process of chromosome segregation? How does the brain control movement in your leg? All this science seems complicated because of the scientific jargon but there is a lot more to experiencing these basic concepts of life than just reading some heavy worded paragraphs. It is high time that we re-think about developing science communication strategies that will cover everything, from making the language used accessible to non-specialists or children, getting through to sensorial or physical challenged students, as well as making science fun for special needs students and community.

Living in these unprecedented times we need to re-strategize the usual science communication channels to develop innovative and inclusive strategies. These strategies should account for multiple factors including better understanding of science, or just to make people realize that science is fun, and at times to inspire a future generation, while also raising aspirations of young minds to pursue a career in science.

Science communication should reflect the aims, and then meet the needs of those we are seeking to communicate to. Thinking about the barriers for each cohort of audience will allow better tailoring. For example, the amazing podcasts that are available online might be more inclusive with explanations in sign language and/or with subtitles in different languages. To a further extend, it we need translation of the science communication articles in braille making it available to the visually challenged people.

Dumbrepatil is an expert on developing hands on activities for effective science communication. Her hands on activity at the University of Michigan for explaining the body’s antiviral immune response. Credit: Arti Dumbrepatil

Giving the person an ability to touch, feel, and experience a scientific fact will help increase the awareness of science for students with learning disabilities. Communicating science not only in words but in form of small innovative experiments that help to live through the scientific fact will be a step further in promoting and making science more inclusive. Re-thinking ways to make science communication effective will not only help the scientific community but will motivate students to revolutionize scientific temperament. Experiencing the hot atmosphere of Jupiter using hot water is more relatable to a blind student than just reading about the temperature of Jupiter. Similarly, establishing and completing a synapse-based circuit and controlling the movement of the doll, will make a wheelchair-bound student interested in understanding the different ways the brain controls the muscle movement. Science communication needs to break these boundaries and dive into a new era which will make it not only more inclusive but also will help to advance communication strategies in overcoming learning disabilities. Why should the wordy communication restraints hamper the advancement of the scientific community? It will depend on our re-thinking the ways of science communication on how we see the scientific field evolve to accommodate every single individual in a society.

Arti Dumbrepatil is a contributory science writer at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a freelance science communicator. Find her on Twitter @rtisciwrites.