Reports from Working Groups

Image of educators working together at the 2014 AccessSTEM CBI

What are examples of interventions that can promote participation and success of students with sensory impairments studying STEM?

  • Teach students to self-advocate. For K-12, students may have IEPs, parent assistance, and structure that is unavailable in college.
  • Separate technically easy problems, like captioning, from difficult problems like database diagramming. The former requires organizational and behavioral interventions; the latter, new technical developments.
  • Revisit assumptions about literacy.
  • Consider human-computer interaction tools.
  • Upgrade classroom supports. Move lectures to captioned video to make them more accessible for students who are sensory impaired. Use in-class discussion as a way to encourage engagement between students with disabilities and students without disabilities.
  • Use STEM-trained interpreters.
  • Caption lectures with headlines outlined in the transcript (making the structure similar to that of a textbook). Create scaffolds for captioned content.
  • Pair students who use similar technologies for mentoring and tutoring.
  • Create an accessible science equipment lending library.

What are specific academic coaching, mentoring, and other interventions that can be employed to support students with disabilities?

  • Create mentorship opportunities in many forms including group, individual, and e-mentoring by peers, students, educators, and faculty.
  • Consider mentors who may or may not have disabilities, but can still be strong advocates. Consider the benefits of matching by gender.
  • Tell personal stories. Building a rapport with one student can lead to building community and culture.
  • Find mentors based on specific criteria, for example, at
  • Engage in socio-emotional advising.
  • Make efforts to increase student engagement with peers. Provide transportation assistance.
  • Create a mentoring group using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
  • Connect with students using identitiy development models, career coaching based on the student strengths, and industry connections related to the student goals.
  • Suggest a thought-provoking media series for students to review, such as a three to five episode series on YouTube.
  • Consider ways to reach postsecondary students who do not self-disclose.
  • Offer a summer bridge program.

How can postsecondary faculty and other stakeholders promote the STEM success of students with disabilities using universal design (UD) and other strategies?

  • Establish a faculty council with a mission of inclusion.
  • Consider the identity issues of veterans, their disincentives to participate, and how universal design can address their needs.
  • Employ accessibility liasons to support faculty.
  • Introduce UD as part of new faculty training. Include how to adapt instruction for specific disabilities. Create models for how to implement UD, including easy to understand examples.
  • Include accessible designs in technology contracts as the contractor’s responsibility.
  • Promote faculty, staff, and student learning communities to discuss IT applications for life beyond the classroom.
  • Widely distribute ways to make the web more accessible, like those included in AccessComputing’s 30 Web Accessibility Tips.
  • Encourage campus accessibility champions to spread the word. Get testimonials from both students with disabilities and those without, and make successful outcomes more visible to faculty.

How can K-12 educators and other stakeholders employ UD or other K-12 interventions to facilitate interest and success in STEM education for students with disabilities?

  • Start outreach early, like NCWIT’s AspireIT Middle School Outreach Program.
  • Design professional development days and courses using UD.
  • Offer informal education experiences like after school programs and conversations with youth development professionals to avoid challenges that may arise in formal settings.
  • Partner with organizations which have both resources and a common interest in increasing diversity, such as GMSP, NCWIT, or Georiga Tech.
  • Open lines of communication between postsecondary disabled student services offices to high school special education directors and teachers.
  • Try engaging through the virtual online community Second Life. The initial benefit may be for students with social or behavioral challenges, but it can be useful for everyone.
  • Accommodate different learning styles and technology so students get a strong foundation in STEM, then expose them to fun science to see where their interests lie.
  • Provide opportunities for parents to learn how to encourage STEM at home, including a learning community for parents.
  • Teach all students about assistive technology and software. Create opportunities for students who use assistive technology to be teaching assistants in K-12 schools.
  • Provide opportunities for K-12 educators to learn about UD, accommodations, and assistive technology for credit.
  • Set a goal for every student to have a positive STEM experience in elementary school.
  • Look at K-12 programs like Project Lead the Way and talk with the teachers involved.
  • Use images in materials that reinforce an “I can” attitude and depict a diverse student population.

What kind of supports for K-12 to college, two-year to four-year, and military to civilian transitions might maximize the success of students with disabilities in STEM?

  • Secure funding that supports the replication of successful practices, not just the development of a shiny new program.
  • Offer programs which provide services and supports without requiring formal “enrollment” or labeling. For veterans, there are specific issues around disability terms that can be stigmatizing or misenterpreted.
  • Offer mentorship programs for campus veterans like the Virginia Commonwealth University V.E.T.S. in College program.
  • Provide professional development for K-12 high school counselors. Build stronger professional collaborations with high school counselor groups.
  • Deliver training in self-advocacy skills, including time management, in multiple communication formats.  

What technology/science equipment strategies have the potential to promote the success of students with disabilities?

  • Promote a positive job outlook in STEM fields.
  • Make accessible science equipment “standard” in all classrooms and labs, starting in K-12. Widely distribute resources about accessible science equipment and labs.
  • As Everett Rodgers points out, people won’t accept innovation unless the innovation fills a need. In education settings, the “need” should be apparent to both the student and the instructor.
  • Design low-tech options using everyday and common materials, thereby making accommodations less “special.”
  • Teach web design, coding skills, and plug-in modules using UD.