British Science Week Community Grants are awarded to community groups who serve audiences usually underrepresented in science, including people with any kind of physical impairment. Enter VICTA! VICTA is a national charity that provides support to children and young adults who are blind or partially sighted, and a Community Grant recipient in 2021.

In this blog, Luke Wakefield, head of activities and strategic programmes at VICTA, tells us about the activity VICTA ran with the grant funding, how they worked to ensure STEM is accessible to visually impaired young people, and their plans for the future.

VICTA Virtual Science Fair 2021

The VICTA Virtual Science Fair, delivered from January to March 2021 and culminating in British Science Week, gave visually impaired (VI) young people a platform to engage in accessible science tasks and challenges, and find out more about science and STEM careers.

We’ve all been flooded with virtual events over the past year, so we wanted to create something that not only stood out but was also meaningful and purposeful to engage VI young people. We are not scientists; to give it due credibility, we reached out and engaged with a variety of STEM professionals and organisations. Through this positive relationship building outside of the VI sector, we were able to collate a variety of content, resources and videos made fully accessible for VI young people. We had such a great response from the STEM sector, with a willingness to adapt existing resources to make them VI friendly, or just excited by the challenge of creating something new for us.

We work with VI children and young people aged 0-29 years old, so it was important that the Science Fair appealed to as much of that range as possible. Splitting the microsite into three age-related areas meant that any young person could quickly navigate themselves to the most appropriate age-related content for them. Under 10s were able to apply for a free Braille Lego set and use the Science Fair microsite for ideas on introductory engineering style tasks. Over 10s were able to challenge themselves at an ever-growing list of innovative investigations and experiments. Create the worst smell, slide the furthest, drop a water balloon from the greatest height without it bursting… All fun and engaging with the underlying science behind each activity highlighted on the microsite.

The Virtual Science Fair fell at a time when most of the UK’s children were being home-schooled, families were having to isolate and access to shops was not always easy. It was important for us that all tasks and challenges for all age groups were accessible and required minimal resourcing, with the flexibility and adaptability to swap out items if needed.

The careers section for our older age groups was particularly exciting to build and develop. We wanted to collate the appropriate mix of VI scientists as well as highlight varied careers and professions that perhaps wouldn’t ordinarily be considered as falling under the bracket of STEM. Our Q&A videos with VI oceanographers, astronomers and biochemists have been very popular, but the interview that struck the biggest chord, and that had the most views, was with a VI student studying medicine at the University of Oxford. This clearly shows that the appetite for VI students entering STEM careers is high, and having the insight from a student currently studying in the field is hugely sought after.

Our hope is that by continuing to share these experiences, it will inspire many others to challenge the perceptions of what someone with a vision impairment can achieve in science.

The success of the Virtual Science Fair means that plans for 2022 are already well underway, and with the ending of restrictions and venues reopening, we will be looking to complement our virtual offering with in-person experiences and opportunities. Science centres and festivals are wonderful multi-sensory opportunities, and we are looking forward to bringing groups of VI young people together to stimulate and inspire their future career choices and journeys.

Find out more about our Science Fair and see the career Q&As here:

VICTA held their event with the help of a British Science Week Community Grant. If you work for a community group that serves an audience usually underrepresented in science, you could be eligible for the grant too! 

We offer grants of up to £1,000 to run all sorts of activities and events, it's an opportunity to get creative.

Find all the information you'll need here: British Science Week Community Grants

Applications for grants close on 8 November 2021.