Hands-on Activity Seeing the World through a Different Lens

Quick Look

Grade Level: 7 (6-8)

Time Required: 1 hour

The time spent on this activity can be reduced or increased depending on the number of workstations set up.

Expendable Cost/Group: US $1.00

(most materials can be found in school or borrowed)

Group Size: 5

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Science and Technology

A young girl with polio using a crutch.
Students model different disabilities to gain a better understanding of physical limitations that many have to encounter
Copyright © Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/91311153@N02/8291653910


Students participate in a variety of activities modeling different disabilities. They gain a better understanding of physical limitations while performing tasks at workstations without the use of their thumbs (taped down), impaired vision (various glasses) and impaired mobility (using crutches and wheelchairs). After discussing their experiences, they work in teams to create or improve on an adaptive device. Like biomedical engineers, students are challenged to design with the purpose of helping make a particular task easier for another person.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Bioengineering technologies explore the production of mechanical devices, products, biological substances, and organisms to improve health and/or contribute improvement to our daily lives. Biomedical and mechanical engineers design and test various types of prosthetics to help people with disabilities.

Learning Objectives

After this activity students should be able to:

  • Explain a range of differing needs for adaptive or assistive devices.
  • Describe how technology can be involved in developing and improving assistive and adaptive devices.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. Thus technology use varies from region to region and over time. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Use appropriate symbols, numbers, and words to communicate key ideas about technological products and systems. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Advances and innovations in medical technologies are used to improve healthcare. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Develop innovative products and systems that solve problems and extend capabilities based on individual or collective needs and wants. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Create solutions to problems by identifying and applying human factors in design. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Analyze how an invention or innovation was influenced by its historical context. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Explain examples of adaptive or assistive devices, e.g., prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, eyeglasses, grab bars, hearing aids, lifts, braces. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Explain how such design features as size, shape, weight, function, and cost limitations would affect the construction of a given prototype. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

  • penny
  • tape
  • zipper / jacket with zipper
  • a few pairs of latex gloves or any other thin pair of gloves
  • shirt / coat with buttons
  • child-proof medicine bottles
  • eye chart
  • 3 pairs of eyeglasses (old, unwanted pairs are best)
  • picture for puzzle (see instructions in Procedure section)
  • guitar case and/or large suitcase or a big cardboard box
  • large books that can be dropped
  • brooms (2-4)
  • stopwatch
  • sticky notes
  • assistive and adaptive devices to show during the activity introduction, such as a tool for buttoning shirts, specialized eating utensils, remote controls or telephones with huge numbers/buttons, or containers approved by the Arthritis Foundation, for example the Folger's AromaSeal Canister (look for items with their symbol)
  • wheelchair (2 if convenient)
  • crutches (2-5 sets of various sizes)

Black and white graphic logo says, "ease-of-use commendation by Arthritis Foundation www.arthritis.org."
Copyright © Arthritis Foundation http://www.arthritis.org/

Crutches, wheelchairs and assistive/adaptive devices may be obtained through the school nurse's office or by requesting donations via a local newspaper, church program or Craig's List (online). Many families have unused wheelchairs or crutches and are happy to donate or loan them to a good cause. Extra wheelchairs and crutches can later be made available to school nurses or medical clinics in your area.

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/assistive_tech_sue] to print or download.


(Hold up an assistive or adaptive device[s] and ask students:) Why did someone invent this? (Give students time to look at the device and figure out what the inventor's purposes was in developing the device.)

What might the inventor(s) been considering when s/he developed and tested the device? (Listen to student ideas. Suggest possible specifications and needs that went into the engineering design process.)

(Alternatively, gather enough assistive and adaptive devices so that students can work in small groups on this activity.)


Set up 4-5 workstations in the classroom to allow students to explore some of the difficulties faced by individuals with disabilities. Depending on time availability, either have each student work at only one station, or have each student visit several or all work stations. If rotating, allow ~10 minutes at each station.

The attached Student Worksheets include the following items:

  • Page 1: Pre-assessment reflection questions
  • Page 2: Loss of opposable thumb activity
  • Page 3: Eyesight impairment activity (using one pair glasses)
  • Page 4: Eyesight impairment activity (multiple glasses comparison, A-B-C)
  • Page 5: Wheelchair activity
  • Page 6: Crutches activity
  • Page 7: Crutches-wheelchair-feet mobility course activity (instructions)
  • Page 8: Crutches-wheelchair-feet mobility course activity (data sheet)
  • Page 9: Reflection sheet

Before the Activity

  • Prepare vision impairment glasses: Using a pair of plastic wrap-around glasses, use a piece of sandpaper to roughen the glasses to various degrees. Label them A, B or C, but do NOT include information on the level of impairment in the labels or worksheets; leave that for students to figure out as part of the activity. A = moderately impaired, B = mildly impaired, C = severely impaired. Alternatively, tape layers of scotch tape over the glasses lenses to make them hard to see through.
  • Note: Two different versions of the vision impaired worksheet have been included; one version is for one pair of glasses and the other version is for multiple pairs.
  • Make the puzzle: Using a picture of a familiar person or place and a paper cutter, create the jigsaw puzzle. First, cut the picture so its overall dimensions are 6 inches (15.2 cm) by 9 inches (22.8 cm). Next, cut this same picture into nine equal rectangles, each measuring 2 inches (5.1 cm) by 3 inches (7.6 cm). Use the paper cutter to make these rectangles as uniform as possible. Shuffle the puzzle pieces and place in an envelope.
  • Gather materials and make copies of the student worksheets.

Set Up Workstations. Place appropriate worksheets at each station.

  • Locate the wheelchair station next to a set of shelves so students must reach from the wheelchair, attempting to retrieve an object from a high shelf. If you do not have easily accessible shelves, place sticky notes (Post-Its) at various heights on the clssroom board and position the wheelchair in front of it. Set clear boundaries for where the wheelchairs and crutches are allowed to move about.
  • At the vision impairment station, use a towel, large box, or cloth to cover the items students will be trying to see. Alternatively, place the items face down on the table.
  • If you are opting to use the crutch-wheelchair-walking course challenge, set up a route, perhaps in the hall or cafeteria. Choose three points along the way at which each student is to retrieve a sticky note. (Instead of putting the notes directly on the wall, you may want to put them on a piece of paper taped to the wall.) At one location, place the notes should at a comfortable height for all three students. At another point, place them higher, and at the third spot, relatively low. After traveling the course, students walk back to the starting point, placing the sticky notes back on the papers as they go.

With the Students

Tell students they are about to participate in a series of activities that will give them a glimpse into the difficulties people with disabilities face throughout their days. Divide them into groups. Introduce them to the workstations (listed below), explaining the activities and worksheets with follow-up questions.

  • Demonstrate taping down a student's thumb to model the loss of opposable thumb. Ask students to put on the gloves such that the thumb is not inserted into the glove. Then, tape down the thumb to disable its movement. Then pick up a penny, close a zipper, button a jackiet , tie a shoe and open an empty child-proof bottle.
  • Represent moderately or severely diminished eyesight. Have a student with the impairment glasses read from different medicine bottles, school books, posters in the room or a medical eye chart. Have them try to put together a picture of a famous person or building that you have previously cut into 9 equal parts.
  • In introducing the wheelchair station, ask students, "How do you reach something if you have to be seated all the time?" Tasks include reaching for a cup on a shelf, picking up somthing small/low to the ground, carrying a plastic cup of water (without holding it between legs) or moving while something bulky that does not fit in one's lap (such as a guitar case, a huge beach ball or an empty cardboard box).
  • Have students at the crutches station each carry one (large) book while traveling from one end of the classroom to the other. Then again with three (large) books. Try again while carrying a plastic cup filled with water. Compare this disability to the wheelchair station where students in the wheelchair attempt to carry a guitar case, a large suitcase, a pile of books, or a plastic cup of water.
  • (optional) Mobility Comparison Course: Put several sticky notes in three different areas and heights of a hallway or classroom. Record the time required for a student with no disabilities to pick them up and compare with the time needed by students in a wheelchair or using crutches to complete the same activities. Ask students to assess the relative difficulty of this task, comparing the three modes of mobility.

Assign completion of the worksheet's reflection questions for homework.


assistive and adaptive technology: Assistive technology (AT) is a generic term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices and the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. AT promotes greater independence for people with disabilities by enabling them to use items that they were formerly unable to use by providing enhancements or methods of using the technology. According to disability advocates, technology, all too often, is created without regard to people with disabilities and unnecessary barriers make new technology inaccessible to hundreds of millions.

assistive device: Any item or system that is commonly used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

bioengineering: The application of the principles of engineering and technology to the life sciences.

biotechnology: The use of biological processes, as through the exploitation and manipulation of living organisms or biological systems, in the development or manufacture of a product or in the technological solution to a problem.

disability: A health or physical problem that limits a person's ability to perform an everyday activity; lack or ability, power or fitness to do something. For example, eyeglasses are assistive devices used by people with visual disabilities.

opposable: Capable of being placed against one or more of the remaining digits of the hand.

prosthesis: An artificial device that replaces a missing part of the body.


Pre-Activity Assessment

Writing: In a project log (or page 1 of the attached worksheets), ask students to answer the following questions:

  • What do you think assistive and adaptive technology is?
  • Who do you think might use it, and why?

Activity Embedded Assessment

Activity Worksheets: Have students complete the attached worksheets, which provide workstation task instructions, guidance for data and observation gathering, and summary questions. Review their answers to gauge their comprehension of the subject

Post-Activity Assessment

Reflection Homework: Assign students to complete the last page of the worksheets, the reflection sheet, as graded homework.

Design Challenge: Have students who are continuing on to complete the design challenge activity apply what they learned here, allowing for additional demonstration of understanding of concepts. Make sure they include drawings of the tools that they are designing.

Safety Issues

  • Use crutches and wheelchairs appropriately, being mindful of stairwells and other hazards.
  • Students working at the impaired eyesight workstation should not leave their seats until they have taken off the glasses.
  • Instruct students in the correct use of crutches. Armpits do not rest on the crutch pads. Instead, use your hands to support your weight.
  • You may wish to have several pairs of crutches already adjusted to different heights in order to avoid students changing the heights of the crutches themselves.
  • Instruct students in safe use of the wheelchair, being careful not to stick fingers in spokes. Show them the brakes and the correct method for turning the chair. Remind them that wheelchairs can tip over, and that anyone who tips a chair may face both an injury and a consequence.
  • At the opposable thumbstation, make sure students do not tape their thumbs to their palms directly. Ask them to use the gloves before taping their thumbs, to prevent any injury while removing the tape.

Troubleshooting Tips

  • For the opposable thumb station, the procedure that worked best was to have a student insert all four fingers into the gloves (not the thumb) and then put tape on to prevent thumb movement.
  • Take special care when introducing students to these workstation experiences. Ask them to consider friends or family with physical difficulties, reflecting on appropriate, respectful behavior regarding disabilities.
  • You may wish to invite a disabled individual to speak to the class about his or her disability and everyday experiences.
  • Using crutches or a wheelchair may seem fun to students, but remind them that people who use these devices may not have the choice of ever being without them.
  • A student may mention prosthetics as assistive and adaptive devices. You may wish to think ahead on how you wish to handle such questions, as some prostheses are clearly functional, such as arms and legs, while others may be more cosmetic, such as prosthetic breasts and eyes.

Activity Extensions

  • Have students conduct research or interview individuals with disabilities, and write reports or make presentations on what they learned and for what types of activities these people would like assistance because no sufficient adaptive device exists.
  • Have students investigate how prosthetic devices have enabled disabled athletes to participate in sports. Many wheelchairs have been especially designed for specific sports. Amazing prosthetic legs have been designed to enable double amputees to run faster than able-bodied runners. Have students research the process by which these legs were developed.
  • A young man entering the pro golf circuit in the 1990s requested and was denied an accommodation allowing him to use a golf cart because of a serious leg condition. More recently, double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius was barred from competing in the regular Olympics. Explore the issues created when a disabled athlete wants to enter an event traditionally open to all athletes.
  • Have students research the Americans with Disabilities Act, its effect on employment of people with disabilities and its effect on companies.

Additional Multimedia Support

See a list of "easy to use" products and packaging recommended by the Arthritis Foundation in the categories of appliances, exercise equipment, home furnishings, office products, delivery systems, health aids, kitchen products, home and garden, and mobility aids. Many products are now created with considerations for "universal design." See http://www.arthritis.org/we-can-help/ease-of-use/#_ga=1.229606367.254246550.1423774156


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K-12 Outreach Office, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Last modified: March 8, 2019

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