Replication Materials: Facilitating Student Internships to Promote Accessible Informal STEM Learning

Project Description

The Access to Informal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Learning (AccessISL) project supports efforts to develop a capacity building model for making informal science learning opportunities more welcoming and accessible to everyone, especially individuals with disabilities. The project is a collaboration between the University of Washington (UW) Museology program and the UW Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) Center. Through the project, ISL programs and academic departments nationwide can participate in training, consultation, community building, and activity and resource development.

AccessISL provides internship opportunities for postsecondary students to enhance their learning about accessible ISL, promote accessibility within academic departments, and engage in activities to make ISL offerings more welcome and inclusive for everyone. Information about the implementation of AccessISL internships is provided here for others who wish to replicate such practices.

Recruiting Participants

Fifteen University of Washington (UW) students participated in AccessISL internship activities. Students were recruited utilizing an internship announcement that was shared widely at the University of Washington, primarily within the Museology Program, the Disability Resources for Students Office, the d/Disability Center, and the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) Center.

The internship announcement shared a description of the AccessISL project as well as a description of intern responsibilities, learning goals, qualifications, compensation, and application materials as follows:

AccessISL Internship Announcement

Internship Title: Access Team Intern: NSF-funded Access to Informal STEM Learning (AccessISL) project

Description of the project: Individuals with disabilities are often not fully included in educational opportunities. With an eye toward accessible informal STEM learning, the University of Washington (UW) Museology Program and the UW DO-IT Center have collaborated to create the Access to Informal STEM Learning (AccessISL) project. The two-year NSF-funded project brings together faculty and students in museum studies and faculty and students working on universal design for individuals with disabilities. This team will support ISL practitioners and AccessISL’s efforts to develop a capacity-building model for making informal STEM learning (ISL) opportunities more welcoming and accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Overview of internship and responsibilities: We are recruiting student interns to join our team. AccessISL interns will engage in many of the following activities:

  • Review the mission, vision, and value statements of the UW, the Museology department, and ISL programs and recommend adjustments to assure that programs are welcoming and accessible to everyone.
  • Conduct accessibility reviews of informal STEM learning programs and recommend updates to the accessibility review instrument itself; synthesize recommendations for improving the accessibility of each program;
  • Develop and deliver presentations of recommendations to ISL programs, collaborate with the ISL program staff to identify reasonable improvements and priorities, and assist in an implementation (with up to $1,000 of project funds available to each partner ISL program).
  • Assist with the creation of resources for ISL practitioners and museology faculty who wish to replicate AccessISL practices.
  • Explore ways to engage other individuals with disabilities in project efforts, such as recruiting them to complete accessibility reviews at partner ISL sites.
  • Serve on panels to share their experiences in classes, at meetings, and at conferences.

What will interns learn/gain experience in? AccessISL interns will learn about ways to ensure that informal STEM learning is welcoming and accessible to individuals with disabilities. Using newly developed tools, similar to the checklist for making projects accessible, they will learn how to evaluate informal STEM programs for accessibility and learn about applications of universal design within informal STEM learning.

Qualifications/ideal candidate: Ideal candidates will have a strong interest in two areas: 1) informal STEM learning opportunities that build stronger communities, and 2) the full inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of society.

Compensation: Museology Program Students will receive academic credit, $1,500 tuition reimbursement, and up to $1,800 for hours worked during the internship (approximately $18/hour). UW undergraduate students will receive up to $1,800 for hours worked during the internship.

Expected commitment: Access Team interns are expected to work approximately 100 hours during the Winter and Spring Quarters. Many activities will allow for a flexible schedule, while others (e.g., team meetings, presentations) will be scheduled in advance.

Required application materials: Apply for the internship at [link]. Please note that applications are due by November 22.

Be prepared to provide a resume and answer two questions in less than 200 words each:

  1. Please share why you are interested in being selected for the AccessISL internship. What interests you about the project activities and why? How do you think participation will benefit you, your learning experience, and/or your career?
  2. If applicable, please share any experience/knowledge you have about disability rights, disability culture, disability-related policies, and/or the inclusion of people with disabilities in the community. We anticipate that not every applicant will have such experience, and that is ok.

Contact information: Scott Bellman, AccessISL project director,, 206-685-6222. Dylan High, Graduate Advisor, Museology Graduate Program,, 206-221-0713.

Interns were selected based on their perceived ability to conduct internship responsibilities as suggested in their resume and answers to the two essay questions.

Intern Participation

  • Eight interns participated in a 21-week internship from January 2020 to June 2020.
  • Four Interns participated in a 21-week internship from January 2021 to June 2021.
  • Two interns participated in an 11-week internship from January 2021 to March 2021.
  • One intern participated in an 11-week internship from January 2021 to March 2021 and an 8-week internship during Summer 2021.

Activities and Logistics

Fifteen interns—a mix of UW students with disabilities pursuing STEM fields and students enrolled in the Museology Program—engaged in a one- or two-quarter internship; an additional intern worked during summer quarter. Through the following weekly modules, interns developed their problem-solving, self-determination, and communication skills as they worked to enhance their learning about accessible ISL, promote accessibility within academic departments, and engage in activities to make ISL offerings more welcome and inclusive for everyone.

Quarter 1

Week 1: Introduction 

Interns explored the project website, reviewed the Knowledge Base, and read excerpts from the book Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook (Introduction and Civil Rights).

Week 2: Accessible Exhibitions and Universal Design of Exhibits and Spaces 

Interns explored Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design, chapter 13 (Universal Design of Physical Spaces) of the book Universal Design in Higher Education (UDHE), and the publication Universal Design Guidelines for Exhibits. They discussed Is This the World’s Most Accessible Museum? and Inclusive Practices in Museums.

Week 3: Planning for Inclusion, Legal Overview of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, and Architectural Access 

Interns explored Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook (Chapters 1-3) and discussed: Four Things I Learned When I Started Thinking about Museum Accessibility, Museums Are Finally Taking Accessibility for Visitors with Disabilities Seriously, and What Does It Mean to Be an Accessible Museum?

Week 4: Effective Communication and Program Access

With a lens toward effective communication and program access, Interns read Creating Inclusive Learning Opportunities (Diversity, Disability, and Civil Rights; A Framework for Inclusive Practices; Physical Spaces), Accessibility in Museums: Creating a Barrier-Free Cultural Landscape and began learning about video accessibility.

Week 5: Access Technology Used by People with Disabilities, Accessibility Reviews of ISL Programs, and Universal Design Guidelines for Public Programs in Science Museums

Interns discussed the videos Our Technology for Equal Access and The Access Technology Center at the UW, read Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook (Chapters 4-5), and explored UD guidelines for public programs in science museums. Interns discussed AccessISL tools for facilitating accessibility reviews of ISL programs.

Week 6: Diversity and Accessibility

This module exposed the interns to different disability perspectives. They registered for an online training called Disability Justice in Schools, discussed disability as a component of diversity, read essays from the publication Perspectives of STEM Students with Disabilities, and Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook (Chapter 6). Interns also discussed How to Start an Accessibility Movement at Your Museum.

Week 7: Disability Representation in the Media

This module exposed the interns to disability stereotypes. They read Disability Stereotypes in Media and Accurate & Diversified Disability Representation in the Media. They attended a presentation and discussion hosted by an individual with a disability called “Disability Representation in the Media: Stereotypes, Tropes, and Participation by Disabled Actors.”

Week 8: Vision Impairments

This module introduced the interns to vision impairments. They reviewed Museums: A Whole New World for Visually Impaired and Gallery Tour with Audio Description. They learned about captions on videos in preparation for development of a student-driven video. Interns also discussed strategies used to engage ISL patrons with vision impairments, such as audio description devices and tactile displays. Some attended the UW Disability Community Forum to share what they learned.

Week 9: Training for Staff as a Work in Progress

In this module interns explored the design of ISL staff trainings regarding accessibility. They explored Design for Accessibility: Training for Staff, Board Members, Volunteers and Constituents. Interns explored and discussed Art Beyond Sight: Disability and Inclusion Training for Staff and began to generate ideas for a video production.

Week 10: Project and Video Work

In this module interns explored Designing Informal Science Experiences for People with Disabilities, began exploring ideas for individual projects, and began writing a script for a video.

Week 11: Knowledge Base Articles and Projects

Interns worked on articles for the AccessISL Knowledge Base and continued to work on their individual projects. Intern projects included reviewing the Pacific Science Center’s “Science at Home” website, working with the Riverside Art Museum and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center on collaborations, and further developed the intern-driven video production. Project work continued into Quarter 2 (weeks 12-23).

Quarter 2

Week 12: Video Storytelling and Advocacy

Interns completed plans for their submission to the 2021 NSF STEM for All Video Showcase and discussed Using Video as a Storytelling Tool and Creating Accessible Videos. They learned more about video accessibility such as audio descriptions, captions, contrast, and sound.

Week 13: Universal Design part 1

Interns engaged in an overview of Universal Design (UD). They watched 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course, read Universal Design in the News, read UD in Higher Education (Chapters 1-2). Interns discussed how elements of UD can enhance accessibility in ISL programs and ISL training programs such as the UW Museology Program.

Week 14: Universal Design part 2

Interns continued to learn about UD. They read more UD in the News, watched Equal Access: UD of Instruction. Interns continued to discuss how elements of UD can enhance accessibility in ISL programs and ISL training programs such as the UW Museology Program.

Week 15: Universal Design part 3

Interns wrapped-up instruction on universal design by attending the UW Symposium on Teaching and Learning and then discussing accessibility features and challenges of the Symposium. They read UD in Higher Education (Chapter 4) and viewed Elementary School Educator Perspective: UD for Learning in the Classroom.

Week 16: Technology part 1

In this module interns began to learn about common assistive technology used by students and patrons of ISL programs. They viewed the Our Technology for Equal Access series and explored Media and Technology in Informal Science Education.

Week 17: Technology part 2

Interns engaged in the annual Microsoft Accessibility Summit to learn about accessible technology and network with others. They viewed and discussed Technology Advancements and Human Identity. They began planning their writing assignment called Exploring Accessibility of a Museology Course: Personal Learning about UD.

Week 18: Advocacy and Storytelling in Panel Discussions

Interns read and discussed Make Your Next Panel Discussion More Compelling and Ten Ps to an Effective Panel Presentation. During Module 7, the intern video was featured in the 2021 NSF STEM for All Video Showcase.

Week 19: Perspectives of Individuals with Disabilities

Interns viewed What’s It Like?, read Centering People with Disabilities in Engineering, and Understanding Our Stakeholders: The Disability Community. Interns continued to explore Perspectives of STEM Students with Disabilities.

Week 20: Examples of Promoting Inclusive ISL Online

Interns explored papers at Creating Museum Media for Everyone, Accessibility Resources at the  Intrepid Museum, and viewed the video Developing Disabled Access in Galleries and Museums. They explored and discussed Guidelines for Autism-Friendly Programs and Visitor Voices: A Story of Accessibility and Inclusion.

Week 21: Wrap-up of Discussions, Projects, and Coursework

Interns concluded their coursework and turned in all final assignments and evaluations. They viewed and discussed the video Autism Ontario: Making Museums Accessible.

Products and Resources Created by AccessISL Interns

The following products and resources were created, co-developed, or enhanced by AccessISL interns:

Video Production: Interns created and produced a 3-minute video called Access to Informal STEM Learning that was featured in the 2021 NSF STEM for All Video Showcase.

Publication: Interns contributed to the development of a publication called Equal Access: Universal Design of Informal STEM Learning, designed to elicit questions that provide a starting point for making ISL facilities, information resources, and informal learning activities universally accessible.

Contributions to Accessibility of Courses within the UW Museology Program: Two interns provided an in-depth analysis of courses in the UW Museology program to identify strengths related to accessible offerings as well as opportunities to further incorporate principles of Universal Design.

Conference Presentation: An intern co-presented a session with AccessISL staff at the American Association of Museums Expo called “What we learned during the pandemic: Accessible Informal Learning.”

AccessISL Knowledge Base: Interns contributed to the AccessISL Knowledge Base by creating articles, suggesting topics, and helping edit content. These articles included the following:

  1. How can informal STEM learning programs support individuals with vision impairments?
  2. How can informal STEM learning programs support individuals with mobility impairments?
  3. Promising Practice: Autism Ontario: Making museums accessible to individuals on the Autism spectrum
  4. Promising Practice: Visitor Voices: Sharing perspectives of museum visitors with disabilities
  5. Promising Practice: Intrepid Museum: A Promising Practice in Providing Accessibility Information
  6. Where can I learn more about accessibility and UD of informal STEM learning programs?
  7. ALT-text as Poetry: A Promising Practice in Reimagining ALT text
  8. California Academy of Sciences: A Promising Practice in Planning for Visitors who are Neurodiverse
  9. Zenith Mentorship Program: A Promising Practice in Making Informal Science Accessible
  10. How do I include deaf students in informal learning conversations?
  11. SciAccess Initiative: A Promising Practice in Mentorship to Facilitate Accessibility of ISL changed to Zenith Mentorship Program: A Promising Practice in Making Informal Science Accessible
  12. Riverside Art Museum: A Promising Practice in Improving Access for Natural Science Education
  13. Where can I find accessible downloadable museum exhibits?
  14. What is the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education?

Collaborations with ISL Programs

Accessibility reviews at the Seattle Aquarium, the Pacific Science Center, the Burke Museum of Natural History, and the Living Computer Museum: In small groups, AccessISL interns visited four local ISL programs to conduct accessibility reviews in areas such as policies, facility and exhibit access, staff training, and information technology. Their reports were shared with each program along with suggestions for improving accessibility.

Website review with the Pacific Science Center: An intern helped explore the Pacific Science Center website for accessibility as well as inclusive and welcoming language. This work supplemented a more in-depth report about web accessibility provided by AccessISL.

Minigrant with Riverside Art Museum (RAM): One intern worked with RAM to support the development and piloting of a desert-themed RAM “KickstART” Kit utilizing universal design to increase accessibility to STEAM lessons for children who are blind or low vision, neurodiverse, non-English speaking, or deaf/hard of hearing.

Minigrant with Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC): An intern worked with PTMSC to assist in the development of three sets of Salish Sea plankton models to improve tactile accessibility across all plankton programming and exhibits, as well as caption the museum’s exhibit introductory video called “The Story of Hope.” 

Evaluation of the Internship Program

An external evaluator conducted interviews with interns to collect information about their experiences. An internal evaluator conducted online surveys with interns to ask the following questions:

  • Describe how participation in the internship changed your knowledge or skills in reviewing informal STEM learning (ISL) facilities for accessibility.
  • Describe how participation in the internship changed your knowledge or skills regarding the principles of universal design in education.
  • How has participation in the internship changed your knowledge or skills regarding practical ways to improve accessibility in ISL program offerings?
  • Describe how participation in the internship changed your knowledge or skills in leadership activities.
  • Describe how participation in the internship changed your knowledge or skills regarding understanding disability culture and intersectionality of identity.
  • Describe at least one specific way in which you plan to apply the knowledge gained during the internship to your future career goals or academic pursuits.
  • Which learning module had the most impact on you? Why?

Lessons Learned

Project organizers suggest options for ISL training programs that wish to conduct similar activities:

  • Partner with programs on your campus that engage students with disabilities, such as the Disability Resources for Students office and student groups.
  • Try to include individuals with a variety of disability types.
  • Incorporate principles of universal design as you design your project.
  • Encourage everyone involved to suggest new and emerging resources; evaluate them together.
  • Contact local disability organizations to ask about presenters and collaborators.
  • Define intern expectations and assignments from the very beginning.
  • Match interns with specific individuals from local ISL programs.
  • Inform potential ISL partners that the information gathered during the internship will be presented privately, with the goal of positively identifying areas for improvement.

The following resources may be useful to those who wish to sponsor similar activities:


AccessISL is funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant number DRL-1906147) at the University of Washington. This content does not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume their endorsement