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Technology making STEM subjects inclusive

The challenge of making Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) inclusive for disabled learners
Open spiral notebook with stationery and headphones on light blue background
The way materials are presented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects can be challenging for some disabled students.
As with all subjects accessible digital formats and applications are needed for those using built in productivity tools and specialist assistive technologies.
However, STEM subjects tend to have additional requirements such as:
  • the learners are required to understand, manipulate and write mathematical and scientific notation
  • teaching makes use of specific computer applications for tasks, such as data logging, modelling or statistical analysis
  • practical and experimental activities
It is also likely that students will be assessed in a range of activities included:
  • computer coding and problem classes
  • designing and setting up of experiments, taking field observations or extracting data from existing materials
  • presenting results in reports using equations, graphs and complex diagrams
  • group work and presentations
A recent report from the Institute of Physics Building momentum towards inclusive teaching and learning has highlighted how careful planning within departments can help support disabled students.

Templates and frameworks

Scientific writing is highly structured often domain specific. This can be a daunting task for those students with limited exposure to this form of writing or a disability, such as dyslexia where planning and organising work in a linear fashion as well as picking out key factors is challenging.
Where presentation of methodologies and results are highly structured students may benefit from writing frameworks and templates. These need to have structured style sheets with headings in a similar way to any other document.
For those who prefer images, using visual planning and mind mapping tools, particularly with templates such as the MindMeister Scientific Process can help.

Diagrams, tables and graphs

Recording and extracting information is an important part of many scientific methods. If students are concerned about accurately capturing data or reproducing diagrams, think about how they can use photos or videos to capture and present information.
Encourage students to find strategies that ensure they can complete the activity as independently as possible. For example, students who struggle to write fast enough during experiments could record short audio notes; photographs or video of an experiment setup or fieldwork location can be a great reminder when writing up later. Inclusive techniques should be flexible to adapt to students’ needs whilst taking into account the learning objectives of the activity.
Presenting information in tables, graphs and diagrams should be familiar to most students but these formats can all cause barriers as described in Penn State University’s Charts and Accessibility webpage. While it is possible to make tables and diagrams fully accessible to screen readers or make tactile versions of diagrams, simple steps such as a basic description of a graph, table or diagram in a caption or summary paragraph can be helpful to all.
Colour is also frequently used within graphs, diagrams and scientific experiments. Colour Deficiency (or colour blindness) affects about 1 in 12 males and 1 in 200 females (Colour Blind Awareness).
As explained in the Institute of Physics Guide to Supporting Students in STEM with Colour Vision Deficiency careful use of colour within teaching can avoid creating barriers for these students. Where use of colour is unavoidable there are apps for phones, tables and PCs that can be used to name colours.
You may also be interested in other related resources which can be accessed from the ‘See also’ section at the bottom of this page.
Have you found any technologies that might be useful in a STEM situation?

© This work is created by the University of Southampton and licensed under CC-BY 4.0 International Licence. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.
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