Presentation Summaries

Accessible Websites and Online Content

Presented by Terrill Thompson, University of Washington

We have a typical idea for how we picture the typical user—often someone sitting at a computer using a keyboard and mouse. This is a very old-school model, where today technology users are very different, using a variety of mobile devices, getting content audibly instead of visually, interacting with their technology through voice commands, accessing content through touch through their screen or through braille, and using other options and tools. Everyone experiences digital information in different ways.

When talking about access, we are actually talking about people falling on a continuum of ability. Everyone has a different level of ability to hear, walk, read, write, communicate, tune out distraction, and more. And the real message here is that we, as content creators, want to make sure all people have access to all the features, applications, and resources within our content.

Using accessibility features within technology allows for the widest range of users to access our websites, documents, and applications. Following technology accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 creates a guide for more accessible technology. For websites and documents, headings should be labeled, lists should be labeled as lists, tables should be coded properly, images need alt text, colors should have good contrast, and all interactive components should be able to be accessed by keyboard alone. Videos need captions and visual description, and the video player should be accessible. When buying new software, vendors should have documentation of their level of conformance to accessibility standards.

Tips for Accessible Online Learning

Presented by Sheryl Burgstahler, University of Washington

Using accessible practices and inclusive design is very important not only in the technology you use, but in the ways you teach your students. This presentation shares a checklist for making your online course accessible.

I offer nine tips for creating accessible course materials. Consult UW Accessible Technology for details on the design, selection, and use of accessible IT as well as accessibility checkers that help you identify accessibility problems in materials you use or create.

  1. Use clear, consistent layouts, navigation, and organization schemes to present content. Keep paragraphs short and avoid flashing content.
  2. Use descriptive wording for hyperlink text (e.g., “DO-IT website” rather than “click here”).
  3. Use a text-based format and structure headings, lists, and tables using style and formatting features within your Learning Management System (LMS) and content creation software, such as Microsoft Word, and PowerPoint and Adobe InDesign and Acrobat; use built-in page layouts where applicable.
  4. Avoid creating PDF documents. Post most instructor-created content within LMS content pages (i.e., in HTML) and, if a PDF is desired, link to it only as a secondary source.
  5. Provide concise text descriptions of content presented within images (text descriptions web resource).
  6. Use large, bold, sans serif fonts on uncluttered pages with plain backgrounds.
  7. Use color combinations that are high contrast and can be distinguished by those who are colorblind (color contrast web resource). Do not use color alone to convey meaning.
  8. Caption videos and transcribe audio content.
  9. Don’t overburden students with learning to operate a large number of technology products unless they are related to the topic of the course; use asynchronous tools; make sure IT used requires the use of the keyboard alone and otherwise employs accessible design practices.

I offer eleven tips for inclusive pedagogy; many are particularly beneficial for students who are neurodiverse (e.g., those on the autism spectrum or who have learning disabilities). Consult Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction for more guidance.

  1. Recommend videos and written materials to students where they can gain technical skills needed for course participation.
  2. Provide multiple ways for students to learn (e.g., use a combination of text, video, audio, and/or image; speak aloud all content presented on slides in synchronous presentations and then record them for later viewing).
  3. Provide multiple ways to communicate and collaborate that are accessible to individuals with a variety of disabilities.
  4. Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned (e.g., different types of test items, portfolios, presentations, single-topic discussions).
  5. Address a wide range of language skills as you write content (e.g., use plain English, spell out acronyms, define terms, avoid or define jargon).
  6. Make instructions and expectations clear for activities, projects, discussions and readings.
  7. Make examples and assignments relevant to learners with a wide variety of interests and backgrounds.
  8. Offer outlines and other scaffolding tools and share tips that might help students learn.
  9. Provide adequate opportunities to practice.
  10. Allow adequate time for activities, projects, and tests (e.g., give details of all project assignments at the beginning of the course).
  11. Provide feedback on project parts and offer corrective opportunities.

These tips apply to both synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Additional tips for synchronous presentations (e.g., speak all content presented visually, turn on the caption feature of your conferencing software, do not require students to have their cameras on) can be found in Equal Access: Universal Design of Your Presentation.

Accessibility for Cultural Content

Presented by Susan Chun, Independent Consultant, Museums and the Web

At the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago, I worked as a publisher and chief content officer and assembled a team to relaunch their website. We made cutting-edge design one of the unwavering poles of our work–this site design was really controversial. The other unwavering pole of our work was radically welcoming universal design. As we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we thought it would be considerably easier to focus on accessibility from the very start, as well as making it more usable for a wider audience. I also wanted to fight this commonly held myth that just because something is accessible means it can’t be pretty or creative. It is also thought that things that are too complicated can be hard to be made accessible–which isn’t necessarily true.

The MCA website is screen reader-friendly, keyboard friendly, captioned, and audio described. We spent a lot of time creating descriptions of images, and we also needed a tool to identify descriptions and manage them. This led to the birth of the open-source tool Coyote. It integrates with a number of different website softwares and can have multiple users who can be assigned tasks, as well as showcases stats for an organization or for the individual who has made the descriptions. These descriptions allowed multiple people–beyond just those with disabilities–to learn more about each art piece, feel more included, and to get above and beyond the information they gained previously about contemporary art.

Unfortunately, the MCA has now removed a lot of this functionality, finding it too hard to maintain, even though we left a large infrastructure.

Serving Neurodiverse Learners: Strategies from a STEM Summer Camp

Presented by Eric Chudler and Tami Tidwell, Neuroscience for Neurodiverse Learners, University of Washington

Neuroscience for Neurodiverse Learners is an NSF-funded Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) project that provides hands-on experiences and networking opportunities to motivate students from neurodiverse backgrounds to pursue academic pursuits in STEM. Our program includes a STEM summer camp, as well as networking and learning opportunities throughout the year.

During our program, we communicate a lot before the sessions to let each student know what is expected of them. We ask students what types of information and structure would be helpful to them as they participate in camp activities, and use that information for planning. We also let them know whether assignments will be coming, and allow time for students to introduce themselves and opportunities to use audio or chat. We provide the order students will be presenting so they have time to prepare, and if we are going around asking questions, students can elect to skip and come back later. We also make sure that presentations are very visually focused and include a lot of interaction through chat, questions, and polls, which allows students to engage in multiple ways.

We use a software called Padlet, where students can upload their work. We included a project where students had to make neurons from household materials and a project where students shared a musical instrument they had made at home. We also invite students to take ownership of their learning by asking “what do you want to learn about the human brain?”

Before each session, we set up duties and responsibilities related to videoconferencing (Zoom), and we have a communication channel (Slack) running to allow for behind the scenes conversations among staff. We share our agendas, prompts, and discussions through a learning Management System (Canvas) with all participants. For many students, this is their first time experiencing these types of college-based tools. Throughout each day, we also talk one-on-one to many students over chat, Zoom, and the phone, which can include talking through something, making sure someone is somewhere on time, or even just helping someone talk through their anxiety.

We also offer near-peer support, which allows participants to see more people like them who have succeeded in STEM programs and in college. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to another student compared to talking to an adult.

Everyone is Welcome: Social Narratives for all Ages at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Presented by Amanda McMahon, Minneapolis Institute of Art

What does a social narrative mean for an art museum like the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA)? We met with local experts that know this work in and out, including the Autism Society of Minnesota and the museum’s internal design and editorial team. This helped lead to us creating three publications that provide different social narratives that can be used as resources before the visit as well as during the visit.

The first is our Guided School Visit. This offers a unique arrival location and process with a more structured experience and predictable steps. The second is our Independent Visit for Teens and Adults Who are Neurodiverse, which showcases the various options for arrivals and paths through the galleries as well as different lengths of visit, frequency of visits, and needs upon visit. Our third social narrative element showcases Independent Visits for Families with Children Who are Neurodiverse.

We also offer a lot of sensory-friendly spaces, including those with low light or less sound. The guides describe what is offered in these areas compared to those areas with more sensory input, in case students or visitors want to know more about these areas or plan ahead what to allot time or energy for. The guides also offer steps for different users, including how to arrive, how to use coat check, where to find and how to use the service desk, and more information on the family center. The guides are shared on our accessibility pages, across our website, and with our front-of-house staff.

When STEM Learning Opportunities Match with How Neurodiverse Students Learn: Perspectives from the Field

Presented by Ronda Jenson, Northern Arizona University

Discover Your Neurodiverse Advantage in STEM (DYNA STEM), funded by the National Science Foundation, aims to bring the important aspects of neurodiversity to the forefront of STEM, such as creativity, critical thinking, and differences in world view.

Informal STEM learning enhances formal STEM instruction by expanding opportunities for STEM exploration and the formation of STEM identities. ISL helps foster inclusive STEM learning values and can embrace a broad array of abilities, preferences, and perspectives. Having access does not necessarily imply inclusion. Based on their perception of inclusion, STEM learners can experience feelings of accomplishment, success, and joy, as well as feelings of discouragement and exclusion.

We want to think about comfort, environment, and activities built on interests and what is familiar; control, providing options for flexibility, self-guided learning, exploration, and creativity; and building student confidence. We should seek to provide opportunities for students to take risks safely and share their work and their ideas. Neurodiverse students tell us they want clear instructions, flexibility, choice in activities, visuals and graphics, clear and logical applications to real-world work, sensory stimuli focused on specific tasks, physical space options for sitting or standing, and clear social expectations.

By hosting inclusive programs designed for all, students have the opportunity to experience the engineering design process accommodated by their own learning styles, individual interests, and cognitive processes. They can set goals and strive to achieve them through problem-solving, critical thinking, and advocating for assistance. It’s important for students to learn to view failure and frustration neutrally or positively, as failing is an expected step in the engineering design process. Furthermore, all students should get the opportunity to practice with specialized software, develop positive student relations, and explore STEM engineering careers.

Expanding Access at the Riverside Art Museum

Presented by Caryn Marsella, Riverside Art Museum & Clara Dawson, University of Washington Museology Program

The museum was awarded a grant to create accessible programming for visitors that have low or no vision for an exhibition titled Golden Hour: California Photography from the LA County Museum of Art. We thought about the outputs, both outward- and inward-facing, which includes our program, our community partnerships, our organizational knowledge, and new resources and procedures. As an intern, I wanted to make sure I documented every step so that when I left, all the knowledge of how we made this programming remained with the museum.

We started the project by inviting people with disabilities and engaging the community. We held listening sessions with community members with low or no vision to discover and explore their barriers, their desires for art experiences, and their past positive experiences. From this, as well as a literature review, we created tactile images and a tour script that could go along with a guided tour. The power of this project for the community comes from the marriage of both tactical and auditory experiences. This work is ultimately an act of translation and interpretation.

Making PacSci’s Tide Pool Exhibit Accessible to Everyone

Presented by Diana Johns, Pacific Science Center

Something that has been especially hard for us to make accessible has been our Tide Pool Exhibit. This exhibit is not easy to access as it is up two steps and features a narrow walkway, with a bit of a deeper window to make it more comfortable for the creatures inside and for the plumbing to work correctly. The beauty of this experience is it is so tactile and experiential, which is what we wanted all students to be able to access.

We decided we needed to create another touch tank that was wheelchair accessible. We wanted chairs to fit under it and users to reach the creatures, and we wanted to ensure safety for both the students and the animals. We tested a variety of options and invited a variety of people with disabilities to come test different options and provide input. And then the pandemic hit—this put a halt on a lot of our work. We are now planning our next steps, which include optimal animal selection and finalizing processes for maintaining plumbing and water control. We are continuing to work on where we can go next as access opens up to more people throughout the pandemic.

Accessibility Features at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum

Presented by Margaret Gambaro; Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum & Ellen Pieser; Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum

The majority of our museum is located on the former aircraft the USS Intrepid, but we also have a cold war era submarine, the space shuttle orbiter Enterprise, and 27 other aircrafts.

Our website accessibility resources page offers a plethora of resources for visitors with disabilities, and we have a variety of programs for people with disabilities, including programs for people with dementia, ASL interpretation, touch and verbal description tours for people who are blind and low vision. We also have a variety of self-guided supports, family and group programs, and our All Access Maker Camp for students with developmental disabilities.

We have early morning openings and sensory-friendly evenings, which allow participants to have a quieter experience at the museum with softer lights and different options to explore the spaces and different options for support. Our Access Family Programs for Children is a tour-based experience with hands-on guided activities, and we also now offer this program virtually.

Our All AccessMaker Camp, which is hosted twice a year, during Spring Break and during the end of August, is for children ages 8-14 with developmental disabilities. Campers are invited to have a positive camp experience where they can work on social-emotional goals through design challenges and learn more about STEM, communication, problem-solving, and flexibility. We want this program to also be an opportunity for students and parents to have a break from each other—opportunities for parents to work or take time apart from their children, and for children to learn independence skills or how to work with others within the community. Some examples of projects include using the 3-D printer and Little Bits, creating the most durable foil boat to see how many pennies they can make float and making an egg drop that keeps an egg from breaking from a specific height.

Our camp has been such a great experience that many campers want to return, so we have created a Maker Camp 2.0 experience, where returning students can come back the week after our August camp and learn different skills. For example, in the past, students have worked in the aircraft restoration hangar and done one-on-one work with different specialists.

Blinded by Science: STEM Programs for Blind and Visually Impaired Students

Presented by Isaac Beavers, Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind

We have high unemployment in our community, particularly for people with disabilities in STEM. We wanted to create programs that helped and encouraged this population towards filling this gap—we wanted our programs to be based on Alabama standards and respect students’ interests and intelligence. We also sought to build programs that connect students to mentors with disabilities, in environments that are accessible and adaptable, entertaining, active and teamwork-oriented

We have partnered with a variety of organizations to develop different programs. We have created Transition Day Events, which connect STEM to pop culture, including STEM Wars: Career Force Awakens, Guardians of the Cyber Galaxy, STEM-Finity Wars, and Transformers 2020. We also have GenCyber, a week-long cybersecurity camp hosted by the University of Alabama Huntsville; Cyber Charged, another cybersecurity camp; and Auburn University (AU) STEM Day, where AU hosts a whole day of STEM activities for our students that attend a college preparation program for blind or low vision students.

We have hosted activities in robotics, DNA sequencing, cryptography, computer hardware, 3-D printing, computer programing, cybersecurity, password protection, social engineering, geotagging scavenger hunts, electrical circuits, manufacturing, smartphone applications, and drones. For all of our programs, we are adaptive and flexible, using larger print, audio cues, high contrast materials, braille, low tech tactile tools, printed manipulatives, smartphone applications, instructional resource centers, premade solutions, screen reading software, screen enlargement software, and mentors with disabilities. People are welcome to contact us to learn more about these inclusive programs.

Presuming Competence to Build a Community of Supports

Presented by Tany Holzworth, Content Designer for Inclusive Classroom Tools at Microsoft

My goal was to implement an Institute of Museum and Library Science grant at the Woodland Park Zoo and make the volunteer program more accessible to people with disabilities. The volunteer program can impact the safety and health of the people and animals at the Zoo and is taken very seriously. It has high expectations and some high barriers in relation. This was limiting participation by certain groups, as many volunteers are older, and many potential volunteers are people who have disabilities. With the support of an Inclusion Advisory Council, we went through and revised the application and interview process to clarify expectations and make the volunteer program more accessible.

There are sometimes issues with “presumed competence.” Presumed competence is the idea that each person should be approached with an assumption that they are competent and capable of doing the job, provided they receive proper support. There was a staff member who was worried a volunteer who had down syndrome wasn’t able to follow the proper steps needed; however, staff weren’t talking to the person about the issues and instead would just work around them. This led to increased discussions about presumed competence and mentorship that allows for feedback for volunteers and staff with disabilities. We are continuing to create a community of support around this topic to reduce stigma around disabilities.

Engaging Interns to Promote Accessible Informal STEM Learning

Presented by Scott Bellman, University of Washington; Anisa Proda, Access Consultant and Advocate; Dawn Dailey, Burke Museum

Our project is called Access to Informal STEM Learning, or AccessISL. Fifteen UW students participated in AccessISL paid internship activities. Many interns identified as having a variety of disabilities, including those related to learning, autism, attention, mobility, speech, blindness, mental health, and chronic fatigue. Roughly half were interns from the UW Museology program and spent around 1300 hours of learning and discovery in the space of accessible informal STEM learning.

The pandemic impacted our interns by taking our activities from in-person to online. Before the pandemic, interns completed accessibility reviews of the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Aquarium, the Burke Museum of Natural History, and the Living Computer Museum.

AccessISL interns created a checklist called Equal Access: Universal Design of Informal Learning, a collection of knowledge base articles about accessibility in informal STEM learning, a video called Increasing Access to Informal STEM Learning, a presentation at the American Association of Museums Expo on “what we learned during the pandemic: Accessible informal learning,” and a whole collection of projects with museums and science centers. Many of these resources are shared in the resources section of these proceedings and at the AccessISL website.

Building Relationships with Disability Communities

Presented by Elizabeth Ralston, Accessibility Consultant and Founder, Seattle Cultural Accessibility Consortium

People who are engaged in their community are healthier, less depressed, and feel a sense of belonging—people with disabilities should be included in this as well and allowed to engage in all aspects of society.

Within every disability category, there is a wide variety of diversity. One person with a disability does not represent all others with similar disabilities, and intersectionality also plays a large role as well. If you want to engage with people with disabilities, you need to consider them as individuals and focus on removing barriers as broadly as possible, including captioning, ramps, good sensory experiences, and more. This includes getting buy-in from leadership to provide appropriate time and education for staff and inclusion of costs in budget and facility planning.

Marketing the accessibility of your program helps build trust with the disability community. Engaging online and offering appropriate inclusive and accessible services to people with disabilities will encourage more people to come from wider groups. Make sure your language is inclusive and your staff are trained on best practices. Build relationships with people with disabilities—have them as advisors, staff, volunteers, and board members—and create connections with disability organizations to continue these connections.

A Lived Experience of Problem Solving

Presented by Anil Lewis, National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind is an organization that knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines a person or their future. We raise expectations for blind people because we realize that expectations are low and obstacles are still constantly created for us.

I would like to focus on how we actively engage and recognize blind individuals’ expertise and the work they do in all kinds of services and experiences. As STEM was emerging in careers for more and more people, we realized that blind students weren’t being taught the fundamental skills in order to be successful in these careers. So we took it upon ourselves to do some really dynamic programming.

For example, we created a program partnering with a university where we brought over 200 blind kids from across the country to learn accessible STEM, including dissecting sharks, building and launching rockets, programming robots, doing nanoscience, and building bridges. Many of these students gained the skills and self-esteem to go on and pursue programs and careers in these areas.

Our current project is focused on teaching blind students to develop architectural skills. Most people think drafting is a sighted pursuit, but we're doing a lot of modification of existing curriculum to make sure that it's accessible. Part of this was creating a three-dimensional, tactile version of the Mental Cutting Test (MCT), which allows blind students to showcase that they have spatial visualization skills.

Including people with disabilities is always going to be integral. You can never simulate the experiences of the real person living with that disability every day and the ways they think and problem solve. When you're making accessible environments, you often don’t realize all the people who will benefit from the enhanced environment. So don’t think of accessibility as an additional cost. It's not an additional cost: It's the cost that's going to make that experience best in class.

Transcending Boundaries and Supporting STEM Futures for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Students

Presented by Bedarius Bell Jr., Director of Special Programs Alabama Dept. of Rehabilitation Services

Alabama has had summer camps for Deaf and hard of hearing students for over 20 years. In 2016, I had a conference in Seattle with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, and I was thinking about how I’d love to have a specific STEM-focused camp for deaf students. I then learned about the Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing led by Richard Ladner, AccessComputing PI, who had been doing that work for years.

The average gap between deaf students and non deaf students graduating from high school is about 6.5%. This gap gets even bigger when looking at Bachelor’s completion, with a 14.7% gap, and even bigger when looking at the employment gap of 23%. To get students engaged in STEM, we need to get them engaged in high school and in college, and we need to find ways to overcome bias in industries as we address accessibility problems and barriers.

In 2013, I met with Auburn University to design a week-long American College Testing (ACT) Academy. We focused on helping students do better on the ACT test through specific tutors and classes and engage and learn that they could be successful in college. Many of our staff were also deaf and could mentor students. I also wanted the opportunity to connect students and faculty together on campus, as well as engage in the audiology program on campus, so the audiology students could learn from Deaf students as well.

At the University of Alabama, we have a variety of other camps for high school students, including a Career Exploration camp that focuses on independence skills and other work experiences. We’ve hosted the STEM Transition Day events mentioned earlier, and we’ve done so many other projects. We are constantly trying to create programs to help people with disabilities stay in school and find meaningful careers.