AccessSTEM, Collaborating for Impact

by Sheryl Burgstahler, AccessSTEM Director

The AccessSTEM project is led by the DO-IT Center at the University of Washington (UW) with the goal of increasing the successful participation of students with disabilities in learning opportunities and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Participants learn about STEM career fields, assistive technology, accommodations for employment, transition to work, and cutting-edge research. They also build networks of professional contacts through engagements with corporate partners. For example, recent AccessSTEM activities co-sponsored by Microsoft include the following:

  • An event, attended by 200 business leaders and held at the Microsoft Conference Center, recognized Washington State businesses that excel in hiring and promoting individuals with disabilities. The program promoted increased efforts in employing qualified people with disabilities, especially in STEM fields.
  • A day at Microsoft for AccessSTEM Team student members included a panel discussion with Microsoft employees who have disabilities, a tour of the technology museum, and a session on the accessibility features in Microsoft's products. The students also completed a robot design project in collaboration with mentors.
  • AccessSTEM Team students met with twenty mentors from Microsoft. The high school and college students met individually with mentors to talk about careers, work challenges, accommodations, resumes, internships, and applying for jobs in high-tech fields.
  • An accessibility training session for staff from Seattle Public Schools was led by the Microsoft accessibility team. Participants learned about accessibility features built into computer operating systems already owned by the schools, giving insight into how this technology could be accessed by students with disabilities. One participant reported, "I wanted to let you know how valuable the information was… You [Microsoft accessibility team] did a wonderful job of explaining and demonstrating software programs.... We hope to return for more."