Transitional Bridges: A Promising Practice in Using Universal Design and Technology to Promote the Success of Students with Disabilities in STEM

Date Updated

Many students with disabilities who graduate from high school with a goal of postsecondary education do not complete a college degree. Some students who express an interest in college never enroll. Of those who enroll, many have difficulty adjusting to their new environment because the services provided are much different than those they experienced during their high school years. Postsecondary students must provide appropriate documentation and advocate for themselves in order to receive services. This can be a daunting process for students. Once in college, students may encounter academic challenges due to weak academic and study skills, inflexible teaching practices, and/or inaccessible curriculum.

With financial support from the National Science Foundation's Research in Disabilities Education (RDE) program the Transitional Bridges (Puentes Transicionales) Project works with faculty to incorporate universal design for learning (UDL) strategies into math courses to help students with disabilities gain prerequisite skills in order to succeed in math. The project goals are to:

  • create a system to collect and analyze data on students with disabilities in local high schools and community colleges who identify an interest in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields;
  • use technology to create an online learning center for faculty and students with disabilities in the gateway math classes; and
  • train faculty to use universal design in gateway math courses to assist students with disabilities interested in STEM through the critical juncture of transition from high school to a university setting.

Specifically, the project incorporates the UDL practices of providing multiple means of representation and providing multiple means of engagement into math courses. The math courses are held in a technology-rich classroom that allows for recording all class activities including lectures and problem solving demonstrations. Student participants are provided with technology to allow them anytime anywhere access to the class recordings, homework assignments, and other materials posted on the online learning center webpage. Class lecture notes are posted prior to each class. Tables such as basic Trigonometry functions, answers to problems not covered in class, and homework assignments are also posted.

This promising practice serves to improve the success of students with disabilities in higher education by offering an online learning community and incorporation of UDL strategies within course offerings.

This article was developed through the RDE Collaborative Dissemination Project (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0929006) and Universal Design and Technology for Students with Disabilities in STEM Fields (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0928978).