One of the leading issues in accessible science education is creating a laboratory workspace accessible to blind students or students with visual impairments (VI). Although such students can be involved in the science lectures, they are rarely active in the laboratory where more hands-on work and spatial awareness are needed. This marginalization of Students with VI in science laboratory work prevents them from being active learners in the laboratory. Current approaches to solve this problem focus on providing different accommodations such as relying on sighted lab partners to complete the hands-on work. However, while the accessibility of the laboratory work is improved, students with VI remain passive learners. In this paper, we propose a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool developed with natural language processing (NLP) techniques and the Amazon Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). This AI tool can be used as a “virtual assistant” in the lab. In combination with other access technologies and tools, the VLA will allow students with VI to perform the lab tasks by themselves. A demo software called the “Virtual Laboratory Assistant (VLA)” has been released, which can be launched by a smartphone or computer in the laboratory workspace to assist the lab process and control other electronic devices, thereby creating a more accessible lab environment. We believe that such an AI tool promotes the inclusion of learners with VI and has the potential to be helpful for any accessible science education work.
Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, Assistant, Accessible Science Education.