Checklist for Making Projects Accessible to All Students

Photo of students at the Pacific Science Center.

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.

Basically, there are two approaches to access:

  1. accommodations
  2. 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,

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 and ethnic minorities, students with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, young and old students, and other groups represented on your staff in numbers proportional to those of the whole campus or community?
  • Are disability-related access issues and other diversity issues addressed in program evaluation plans and instruments?

Information Resources

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. For making distance learning accessible, consult Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone video and publication.

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

Photo of a DO-IT Scholar and a DO-IT staff member Scott Bellman

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?

Presentation, Exhibit, and Other Communication Hints

Treat people with disabilities with the same respect and consideration with which you treat others. There are no strict rules when it comes to delivering a presentation, hosting an exhibit, and otherwise relating to people with disabilities. However, here are some helpful hints.


  • Ask a person with a disability if they need help before providing assistance.
  • Talk directly to the person with a disability, not through the person's companion or interpreter.
  • Refer to a person's disability only if it is relevant to the conversation. If so, mention the person first and then the disability. "A man who is blind" is better than "a blind man" because it puts the person first.
  • Avoid negative descriptions of a person's disability. For example, "a person who uses a wheelchair" is more appropriate than "a person confined to a wheelchair." A wheelchair is not confining--it's liberating!
  • Provide information in alternate means (e.g., written, spoken, diagrams).
  • Ask for permission before you interact with a person's guide dog or service dog.

Blind or Low Vision

  • Be descriptive. Say, "The computer is about three feet to your left," rather than "The computer is over there."
  • Speak all of the content presented with overhead projections and other visuals.
  • When guiding people with visual impairments, offer them your arm rather than grabbing or pushing them.

Learning Disabilities

  • Offer directions/instruction both orally and in writing. If asked, read instructions to individuals who have specific learning disabilities.

Mobility Impairments

  • Sit or otherwise position yourself at the approximate height of people sitting in wheelchairs when you interact.

Speech Impairments

  • Listen carefully. Repeat what you think you understand and then ask the person with a speech impairment to clarify and/or repeat the portion that you did not understand.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Face people with hearing impairments so they can see your lips. Avoid talking while chewing gum or eating.
  • Speak clearly at a normal volume. Speak louder only if requested.
  • Repeat questions from audience members.
  • Use paper and pencil if the person who is deaf does not read lips or if more accurate communication is needed.
  • When using an interpreter, speak directly to the person who is deaf; when an interpreter voices what a person who is deaf signs, look at the person who is deaf, not the interpreter.

Psychiatric Impairments

  • Provide information in clear, calm, respectful tones.
  • Allow opportunities for addressing specific questions.