The Alliance for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (AccessSTEM) is a dynamic coalition of students, faculty, service providers, and employers. In a nutshell, this alliance promotes
- the full inclusion of people with disabilities in academic programs and careers in STEM.
- the availability of accessible technology for STEM students and employees with disabilities.
- the application of universal design in the development of technology, information resources, programs, services, and STEM curricula.
The first AccessSTEM project began in 2002 as a partnership between the UW and postsecondary schools in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. These schools collaborated with high schools, government and industry employers, and service agencies. It was funded by the National Science Foundation (grant #HRD-0227995) for six years. Ongoing support for participants in the first alliance has been facilitated by AccessSTEM's host organization, the DO-IT Center at the UW, primarily through two types of communities:
- E-mentoring communities of individuals with disabilities and mentors, with many participants serving in both mentee and mentor roles.
- Communities of Practice (CoPs) where educators and other stakeholders (e.g., STEM faculty, veteran-serving professionals, disability services staff, employers) engage with one another for the purpose of making academic programs and careers in STEM more welcoming and accessible.
A second AccessSTEM project was funded by the National Science Foundation in 2008 (grant #HRD-0833504) and continues to be led by the DO-IT Center. The focus of the current alliance is on creating a local model for a continuum of support with high schools, colleges, and universities that promotes the success of students with disabilities pursuing STEM degrees. This project continues to support e-mentoring communities for participants and mentors as well as CoPs for practitioners. It offers research-based interventions and promising practices to high school, college, and graduate students, and supports educators as they make STEM programs more welcoming and accessible to students with disabilities.
The UW, BC, SCCC, and Seattle Public Schools (SPS) are the current AccessSTEM partners. As partners, leaders at the schools work with project staff to implement evidence-based practices that will ultimately increase the number of individuals with disabilities moving through critical junctures to STEM associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degrees and careers. Together, they make STEM programs more welcoming and accessible to high school students with disabilities; expand the engagement of stakeholder groups that include STEM faculty, disability service providers, veterans organizations and students; engage in outreach activities to high school students with disabilities; and expand an online resource center that shares research and promising practices with others.