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Elements of Success

Nov 14, 2019
King's student Serena Johnson
King's student Serena Johnson

It’s your first day of classes. You’re excited, yet nervous. But for a different reason than the other students in your classes. You’re visually impaired.

This was Serena Johnson’s experience. Taking a chemistry class, Serena wondered about how she would read her textbooks or do her homework. Uncovering the beauty and power of the world of atoms and molecules poses challenges for all students, but as a visually based subject, the challenges for Serena went beyond those of the other students. 

“I took Chemistry 30 in high school with a retired chemist who helped make sure I understood what I needed to succeed in the class,” explains Serena. “I had braille materials so learning was easy enough.”

For her Chemistry 290 course at King’s, however, braille copies of the learning materials were not obtainable. Instead, Serena used an online version of the textbook and relied on her computer to read it to her. When the program didn’t work properly she relied on the help of her parents or an aid.

Doing homework required more creative solutions and resulted in Serena being equipped with a magnetic board with brailled chemical symbols to visualize how atoms connect with each other. Having used this in high school, Serena was familiar with this method and confident she could learn from using it. “This tool allowed me to actually plot out what I was trying to communicate instead of trying to translate directly from my brain onto paper,” says Serena.

Serena had the great help of her parents and aid when it came to equations, and plenty of support from her professor, Dr. Peter Mahaffy. “He was always encouraging and willing to talk if I needed help. That was really important to my success,” says Serena.

Working with Serena has also served as inspiring to Dr. Mahaffy, whose awareness of students who are visually impaired was heightened as a result of this experience. “Serena’s passion for exploring ways to understand how the molecular world contributes to tackling global challenges was inspiring to me and to her classmates,” says Dr. Mahaffy. “I was so pleased that she contributed so strongly and confidently to our learning community.”

Serena finished with top marks in her class. “I have always liked science so the concepts came naturally to me. The class discussions were something I could participate in without issues.”


For more information on student accommodations services at King's, please contact the Student Support and Accessibility Office.