STEM Education and Training

Access to Information

Modern scientific education takes many forms, including in-person lectures and demonstrations, print textbooks, videos, digital platforms, ebooks, and formal and informal mentoring. Many of these formats can present specific challenges for learners with disabilities. Some common examples:

  • In-person and video lectures, as well as office hours, can present issues for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
  • Scientific textbooks and proprietary learning platforms can be inaccessible to students who are blind or low vision.
  • Classrooms, labs, and lecture halls, especially on older or historic campuses, may be physically inaccessible to students with disabilities of mobility.
  • Unstated prerequisites, such as cultural norms or familiarity with institutions or conventions, can be a challenge for students with autism, as well as students from locally underrepresented cultures.

Potential mitigations that can make your courses more accessible include:

  • Presenting information in multiple formats whenever possible.
  • Choosing open educational resources, and especially those in textual formats such as HTML and EPUB, rather than proprietary formats and platforms.
  • Using textbooks or platforms with consideration given to accessibility of charts, diagrams, and mathematical equations.
  • Advocating for physically accessible classrooms on campus.
  • Use your course to share information that is often implicit, such as how to access library resources, write an email to a professor, make effective use of office hours, or form a study group with other students, especially . in undergraduate courses

How I Got Access to My STEM Textbooks

Educator Attitude

Frequently, when an educator is confronted with a student with adaptive needs, the educator fails to seek out information on the specific disability and potential remediation's. This can take the form of a failure of imagination—the educator performs tasks in one specific way, and cannot envision how essential tasks might be accomplished using adaptations. On other occasions, the educator might make unhelpful assumptions about the nature of the adaptive need, for example by providing large print text to a student who cannot read print in any form.

Educators and service providers, when faced with the challenge of accommodating and working with students with disabilities in STEM fields, may often believe based on their experience that it is not possible for the student to succeed in the discipline or program of study. This belief contributes to a reluctance on the part of the educator or service provider to work effectively with the student, and might even lead to active resistance to the student’s participation in the course, program, or discipline. We call this the "gatekeeper function." Itself a barrier to student success, the gatekeeper function arises from the attitude that the student ultimately is incapable, or is not fit, for the course, program, or discipline.

When working with a student with disabilities, make sure to learn from the student the specific nature of the adaptive need, and also solicit the student's recommendations about what accommodations might be useful. Think critically and creatively about the situation and task. While research may turn up accommodations that are frequently useful, students, even students with similar disabilities, all have different capabilities and needs.

Mathematics and Equations

Equations and specialized scientific and mathematical symbols provide a specific challenge for blind and low vision scientists and students. In general, equations prepared using common tools such as TeX are not accessible to a screen reader by default. To provide accessible equations in your material, you can prepare equations in MathML, TeX, or ASC11math and then use a tool such as MathJax to output HTML or MathML, which can in turn be copied into common formats such as LaTeX, Microsoft Word, or websites.