Accessibility Reviews: A Promising Practice to Improve the Accessibility of Local Science Education Programs
The Alliance for Access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (AccessSTEM), which is funded by the National Science Foundation created an Accessibility Review Competition as a way to improve the accessibility of local science education programs and to develop the leadership skills of students with disabilities. The competition was open to AccessSTEM Team members, who are high school and college students with a wide variety of disabilities pursuing STEM studies and careers. Participants in the activity earned a stipend plus the cost of the visit if they completed an accessibility review form upon completion of their visit.
The Accessibility Review Competition guidelines were simple. Participants chose a local science education program site to review from a list of suggested facilities; if they wanted to review programs not on the list, they secured approval before visiting the sites. Participants received reimbursement for program admission fees for themselves and up to two other people accompanying them. The cost of parking at a facility was also covered by the competition organizers. Other travel costs were considered for reimbursement on a case-by-case basis.
Prior to visiting their chosen sites participants needed to confirm that the exhibits were open and request any necessary accommodation (such as a sign language interpreter). Participants were also required to read the publication Universal Design: Process, Principles, and Applications to learn about accessibility and universal design.
During their visit participants collected brochures about the exhibit(s) and completed the Informal Science Education Accessibility Review form as they toured the sites. The Accessibility Review form guided participants in evaluating how welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities the science education sites were. The form asks the reviewer to consider accessibility issues related to not just their own disability but to other disabilities as well as they review components such as the program website, publications, physical environments, exhibits/activities, and staff knowledge. After their visits participants submitted their completed Accessibility Review forms and collected brochures to the competition organizers.
A grand prize was awarded to the contestant who submitted the best accessibility report. Additionally, some of the suggestions in the reviews were shared with facilities to guide them in making changes toward activities that are more accessible to everyone in the community, including people with disabilities. Thus, this promising practice can increase knowledge of science and accessibility of the evaluators and increase the awareness of accessibility issues on the part of informal science program staff.
Other programs that are interested in improving the accessibility of local science education programs are welcome to use the accessibility review model developed in the AccessSTEM project.