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5 – Promoting Accessible Informal STEM Learning

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  • Scott Bellman, DO-IT, College of Engineering, UW Seattle
  • Sheryl Burgstahler, Academic Services, UW Information Technology, UW Seattle
  • Meena Selvakumar, Information School, UW Seattle
  • Victoria Bonebrake, Museology Master of Arts Program, Museology Graduate Program, UW Seattle


Topic: Accessibility and universal design of informal science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning.

Context: The UW DO-IT Center’s pilot project facilitated student accessibility reviews of informal STEM learning (ISL) sites. In this effort, high school and college students with disabilities conducted accessibility reviews of ISL programs including the Seattle Aquarium, the Pacific Science Center, Museum of Flight, Burke Museum, and the Woodland Park Zoo.

Scholarly Basis: Applying concepts from the literature regarding Universal Design defined as “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,” social justice education, and DO-IT’s student-centered model of engagement.

Results: In pilot activities, 46 students with disabilities from 13 high schools and 16 postsecondary institutions contributed a total of 79 accessibility reviews. Participants—whose disabilities included autism, blindness and low vision, deafness and hard of hearing, learning disabilities, mobility and health impairments, traumatic brain injuries, and mental health disabilities— increased their awareness of disability types, access issues, access solutions, and advocacy strategies.

Application: Pilot activities have resulted in a newly funded project, Access Informal STEM Learning (AccessISL). AccessISL , a collaboration between the UW Museology Program and the UW DO-IT Center, focuses on the following two objectives:

  • For ISL personnel and museology faculty: to increase knowledge, skills, and actions to make ISL programs, facilities, courses, and resources more welcoming and accessible to participants with disabilities and embed relevant practices within their work.
  • For postsecondary STEM students with disabilities and museology students: to increase knowledge and skills in advocating for ISL offerings that are welcoming and accessible to everyone, including those with a wide variety of disabilities, and to encourage individuals with disabilities to pursue careers in ISL.