Access to Science

Some students with disabilities have conditions that are invisible; some are visible. Since each person's situation is unique, the best solutions for maximizing participation come about when the student, teacher, parent, and support staff (e.g., special education teacher, Individualized Education Plan team members) work together to develop creative alternatives for challenges faced by students with disabilities. Such challenges include gaining knowledge and demonstrating knowledge. In most cases, it takes just a little creativity, patience, and common sense to make it possible for everyone to learn and contribute. Review the videos and handouts Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities and Equal Access: Science and Students with Sensory Impairments for additional insights into access challenges and solutions for students who have visual or hearing impairments.

Gaining Knowledge

Many students with disabilities face challenges to gaining knowledge. Examples of specific challenges and accommodations follow:

Demonstrating Knowledge

Some students with disabilities cannot demonstrate mastery of a subject by writing, speaking, or working through a problem in a lab. Many of the accommodations for gaining knowledge can also help the student demonstrate mastery of a subject. Examples of other accommodations follow:

In the Classroom: A Math Teacher's Experience

I am a high school mathematics teacher. Each fall I look forward to meeting new students. It is exciting for me to watch young people solve problems and gain new skills in the classroom. Over the past ten years, however, I have noticed that many students do not have access to successful experiences that lead to excellence in math. These students have special needs that are often overlooked in the regular classroom. They may have physical, learning, visual, hearing, or other types of disabilities that affect their ability to learn without some type of accommodation in the classroom.

Meeting individual needs effectively while serving all of the 150–180 students with whom I come in contact each day is difficult. However, I have found that some strategies increase the performance of all students in mathematics while addressing the unique needs of those with disabilities. Some of these strategies are particularly effective for students with ADHD or specific learning disabilities. Here are a few of my most commonly used tricks of the trade:

Accommodating individual needs in the mathematics classroom sets a tone for the year that honors individual effort and values everyone. Students who respect each others' contributions in the classroom not only learn more mathematics but also learn valuable lessons about what makes them better people.

In the Classroom: A Science Teacher's Experiences

I am a high school science teacher who works at a school for students with visual impairments. Drawing on my wide range of experience, I make the following recommendations to teachers who have a student who is blind in their science classes:

Below are some specific examples of how you might accommodate students who are blind in a science classroom:

Inexpensive supplies used creatively with a commitment to the full participation of all students can create a positive classroom experience for students who are blind.

Listen to the Experts

DO-IT student participants have taught us to look at the unique abilities of every student. In the course of developing this notebook, we asked them to share with science and math teachers ideas for working with students like themselves. Here are a few suggestions from the real experts:

Academic accommodations can make learning opportunities accessible to all students. The best accommodations result when teachers, students, and support staff work together in creative, collaborative ways. Examples of commonly used accommodations are listed below.

Low Vision


Hearing Impairments

Learning Disabilities

Mental Illness

Mobility Impairments

Health Impairments

[Picture of Carson.]

Carson Completes NASA Internship: A Success Story

The following excerpts are from email messages sent by Carson, a University of Washington student with a learning disability who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as an intern; this opportunity was coordinated through DO-IT's AccessSTEM project.

June 7, 2005: "Some people have asked me about where I applied to get the NASA internship. It is through a program called ENTRYPOINT! at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). I would strongly encourage you to apply if you are a college student and have an interest in a career in science or engineering."

June 19, 2005: "It has been one week since I flew into New Orleans to start an eight-week internship at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. I'm living in New Orleans with three other guys, one of whom is also an intern. I'm working with Boeing engineers and technicians who have been contracted by NASA to test rocket engines. This past week I have been meeting people and getting a feel for how everything fits together. One specific thing I did this week was to enter ultrasonic bolt measurements into a database. They keep track of every minute detail to the nth degree because even a small error can spell disaster. Last night we went to Bourbon Street in downtown New Orleans—it was quite a site to see."

June 23, 2005: "There are three different 'test stands,' which are very large concrete structures that cradle the engines during testing. There are several teams that facilitate the testing process. The one I am assigned to is called 'ground support and maintenance.' Their activities include making parts for maintenance purposes. We also do load testing to make sure the equipment can properly hold the engine. The test results came in yesterday and it was found there were several blowouts in the coolant tubing which lines the nozzle. Today I went over to check out the damage."

July 3, 2005: "This week I worked on two different projects, one in the office and the other on the engine test stand. The office job involved tracking down and making a list of lapping tools. They are used to smooth down joints on the engine tubing. The engine we work on is called the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME). I have been trying to understand how it works. Looking at its blue-print is kind of mind boggling. The other job I'm working on is on the test complex. What I am doing there is helping a mechanic take down a bunch of old tubing and components used on a project that is no longer in service. This internship is a unique chance for me to mix with really different people."

July 27, 2005: "It was determined that a piece of foam that came off the shuttle's main fuel tank about two minutes into flight was very serious. Had it come off earlier, they said, it could have caused fatal damage to the spacecraft. This is a major setback to NASA because they have been working very hard on this issue. Hopefully this problem can be fixed soon. The current mission is not in jeopardy as far as anyone knows, but we did have a close call."

Space Shuttle Discovery returned safely to earth shortly after Carson returned home, two weeks before Hurricane Katrina.