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Accessibility Makeover: How Faculty can Improve Access to STEM Content

taught by: Luis Perez

Session Summary:

The four principles of POUR will be applied to STEM-related course content through a series of material makeover demonstrations. Common examples of materials created by K-12 and higher ed STEM faculty will be first displayed in traditional formats, followed by POUR-aligned accessible versions. Skills will include the application of MathML in documents and websites to make mathematical and scientific notation accessible; best practices for writing alt text and descriptions for technical images, charts, and graphics; and creating closed captions and audio descriptions for video.

Description:

All K-12 and higher education faculty, including those who teach courses related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), can make a significant difference in the accessibility of the materials and technologies that are provided to their students. One of the most basic barriers to learning STEM-related content in high school and higher ed is physical, sensory, and cognitive access to the educational materials and technologies selected and created for student learning. Textbooks, handouts, digital documents, videos, podcasts, websites, and learning management systems can have accessibility issues that interfere with the independence, participation, and academic progress of students with disabilities. Accessible educational materials consist of information or content that is designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable by the widest possible range of learner variability, regardless of format (print, digital, graphical, audio, video). Accessible technologies are hardware or software programs that are usable by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities and are directly usable without AT or made usable with AT (accessibletech.org). By having the knowledge and skills to identify the features of accessible technologies and to create their own accessible educational materials, faculty can remove a universal barrier to the advancement of students toward careers in STEM-related fields. The disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have become highly attractive fields of study in high schools and higher education due to related career and economic opportunities, as well as financial incentives made possible through federal and university grants and scholarships to increase the U.S. science and engineering workforce. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM jobs are projected to grow by almost 9% from 2014 to 2024, compared to 6% for non- STEM occupations. In addition to growth in job opportunities, STEM careers offer higher wages; workers in STEM jobs earned 29 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts in 2015, which was an increase from 26% in 2010. Despite career opportunities and economic affordances, a shortfall of STEM workers exists; the U.S. Department of Labor forecasted that 2.5 million job openings in STEM and STEM-related occupations would go unfilled in 2018 (Noonan, 2017). Increasing the number of people with disabilities who enter the STEM job market will contribute to filling this gap, while at the same time diversifying the field with creative ways of thinking that are frequently born out of their unique perspectives and life experiences. To achieve this, an increase in the number of students with disabilities who both enter and exit the STEM college to career pipeline is necessary. While data show that the percentage of students with disabilities enrolling in undergraduate and graduate STEM degree programs is growing, a gap in the total number as compared to students without disabilities persists. For example, the number of students with disabilities who graduate from high school and enter postsecondary education almost doubled between 1996 and 2012, increasing from 6% to 11% in that timeframe (Newman et al., 2016). And according to research conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2012, undergraduate students with disabilities were as likely to enter higher ed science and engineering programs as undergraduates without disabilities, at a rate of nearly 1 in 4 (NSF, 2017). At the same time this progress is occurring, data show low rates of high school and postsecondary education completion by students with disabilities as compared to their classmates without disabilities. In 2015, the high school graduation rate for all students was 84%, while the graduation rate for students with disabilities was 65.5% (NCES, 2017). Furthermore, while graduate students with disabilities were as likely as those without disabilities to enroll in a science or engineering program in 2012, only 7% of all graduate students reported a disability (compared to 11% of undergraduates) (NSF, 2017). Finally, with 2015 employment data showing that one in nine scientists and engineers have disabilities (NSF, 2017), it’s clear that more needs to be done to increase the numbers of students with disabilities who graduate from high school motivated and prepared to enroll in higher ed STEM degree programs, experience success in college, and successfully enter the STEM workforce. Beyond the moral obligations thus far discussed, education agencies and institutions across K-12 and higher ed are legally obligated to provide accessible educational materials and technologies (AEM) to learners who need them. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guides the development of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in K-12, which include access to curriculum materials through accommodations, including AEM. In higher ed, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires institutions to provide students with disabilities with accommodations that are necessary for equal opportunity in the institution’s programs, including AEM. And Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination of students with disabilities by educational agencies receiving federal financial assistance, which includes denying the provision of AEM. In guidance to higher ed institutions and applicable to K-12, the Office for Civil Rights defines “accessible” as meaning that a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective, equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use as compared to that of persons without disabilities (Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education-Resolution Agreement: South Carolina Technical College System OCR Compliance Review No. 11-11-6002 and Dear Colleague Letter 2010). The promising news is that the authoring tools used by faculty to create their own course materials now often include options for adding accessibility into the content creation workflow. In this presentation, the POUR model from the W3C will be used as a guide faculty can use for creating AEM. The four principles of POUR are: Perceivable means that learners can see and hear the content presented in a material; Operable means that learners can interact with the content with a variety of tools; Understandable means that learners can understand the content and enjoy a predictable experience; and Robust means that the content works well with current and future technologies. The AEM Center tool, Designing for Accessibility with POUR, which includes tutorials for specific skills related to each principle, will be used as a resource. The four principles of POUR will be applied to STEM-related course content through a series of material makeover demonstrations. Common examples of materials created by K-12 and higher ed STEM faculty will be first displayed in traditional formats, followed by POUR-aligned accessible versions. Skills will include the application of MathML in documents and websites to make mathematical and scientific notation accessible; best practices for writing alt text and descriptions for technical images, charts, and graphics; and creating closed captions and audio descriptions for video.

Practical Skills:

Be inspired to learn skills to make self-created K-12 and higher ed STEM curriculum materials, including documents, graphics, and videos, accessible to all learners.

Presentation Materials: