Checklist for Making Projects Accessible to All Students
The following paragraphs provide suggestions for making NSF-funded and other STEM project resources and activities welcoming and accessible to all participants, including those with disabilities. The content is adapted from the DO-IT publication titled Equal Access: Universal Design of Your Project which can be found at http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Programs/design.html.
Basically, there are two approaches to access:
- accommodations, and
- universal design.
Accommodations include alternate formats, assistive technology, and other adjustments for specific students. Universal design is "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design" (The Center for Universal Design, http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud/).
Universal design means that rather than designing for the average user, you design for people with a broad range of characteristics. Potential participants include people with a variety of native languages, men, women, people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and those who have learning disabilities and/or visual, speech, hearing, and/or mobility impairments. Make sure that project staff and volunteers are trained to support people with disabilities, respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner, and know who to contact regarding disability-related issues. The universal design of your project offerings will make everyone feel welcome and minimize the need for special accommodations for individual participants.
Examples of questions to address in order to make your facility, information resources, and project activities universally accessible are listed below. The complete list can be found within the publication noted above.
Planning and Evaluation
Consider diversity issues as you plan and evaluate services.
- Are people with disabilities, racial/ethnic minorities, men and women, younger and older students, and other groups represented in the project-planning process in numbers proportional to those of the whole campus/community?
- Are disability-related access issues and other diversity issues addressed in program evaluation plans and instruments?
Assure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group of prospective members and that the content is accessible to people with a variety of abilities.
- Do pictures in your publications and website include people with diverse characteristics with respect to race, gender, age, and disability?
- In key publications of your project, do you include a statement about your commitment to access and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations? For example, you could include the following statement: "Our project's goal is to make materials and activities accessible to all participants. Please inform organization leaders of accessibility barriers you encounter and request accommodations that will make project activities and information resources accessible to you."
- Are all printed publications available (immediately or in a timely manner) in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text?
- Do videos developed or used in the project have captions? Are they audio described? For more information, consult Creating Video and Multimedia Products That Are Accessible to People with Sensory Impairments at http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Technology/vid_sensory.html. For making distance learning accessible, consult Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone video and publication at http://www.washington.edu/doit/Video/real_con.html.
Project and Activity Facilities
Assure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is welcoming to visitors with a variety of abilities, racial/ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages.
- Are all levels of the facility connected via an accessible route of travel?
- Are aisles wide and clear of obstructions for the safety of users who have mobility and/or visual impairments?
- Is at least part of a service counter/desk at a height accessible from a seated position?
Computers, Software, and Assistive Technology
If computers are used in sponsored programs, make sure that the technology is accessible to all visitors. The organization will not need to have special technology on hand for every type of disability but should have available commonly used assistive technology and have a system in place for timely response to participant requests for assistive technology. Purchasing the following products for computer workstations is a good way to start.
- Is an adjustable-height table available for each type of workstation to assist participants who use wheelchairs or are small or large in stature?
- Do you provide adequate work space for both left- and right-handed users?
- Do you provide a trackball to be used by someone who has difficulty controlling a mouse?
Make sure staff members are prepared to work with all program participants.
- Are all staff members familiar with the availability and use of a TTY/TDD, the Telecommunications Relay Service, assistive technology, and alternate document formats?
- Do all staff members know how to respond to requests for disability-related accommodations, such as sign language interpreters?
- Are project staff and contractors in specific assignment areas (e.g., web page development, video creation) knowledgeable about accessibility requirements and considerations?