A Working Conference Focused on Supporting Students with Disabilities in STEM: A Promising Practice for Changing Attitudes and Beliefs

Date Updated

A working conference provides a forum for stakeholders to combine their knowledge, experience, and perspectives to work collaboratively on an issue. It is structured to stimulate dialogue between participants. For example, small group discussions around a set of related questions may follow presentations and panels in a working conference.

A working conference was held in the Midwest for educators focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for students with sensory and mobility disabilities. The goals of the conference included changing attitudes and beliefs in four areas:

  1. Attitudes toward students (to recognize that students with disabilities can be as successful as other students with appropriate accommodations).
  2. Postsecondary dispositions (to help participants prepare to teach all students, including those with disabilities, in the classroom).
  3. Work-related dispositions (to be ready to collaborate with others to meet the needs of students with disabilities).
  4. Work-related performance (to instill a commitment to the effort required to ensure that all students are successful).

Over a two-day period, conference session presentations, panels and discussions focused on inclusive science education, paying particular attention to community college STEM programs and disability services, support services for STEM students with disabilities, internships and mentoring, assistive technology, and transition services.

Participants reported that they learned about or had insights about:

  • Ways that assistive technology can enable students to succeed and the variety of resources available for students with disabilities,
  • Educational support and career services at community colleges,
  • The need to improve the self-efficacy and self-advocacy of students with disabilities,
  • The importance of not pulling students with disabilities out of science classes to address deficiencies in other areas,
  • The importance that expectations remain high and that students with disabilities receive extra time and other reasonable accommodations to meet those expectations, and
  • The need to address educators' stereotypes of students with disabilities.

In addition, participants were asked to complete pre-and post-surveys that addressed the conference goals. These surveys showed significant gains in all four of the goal areas as a result of conference engagement. These outcomes suggest that the interactive nature of the short-term working conference is a promising practice for changing attitudes and beliefs.

This article was based on information reported in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(4), 349-365 and developed through the RDE Collaborative Dissemination Project (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0929006) and the Iowa Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Partnership (IMSEP) (with funding “Planning for success in STEM for students with disabilities: A  working conference,”) and with collegial support from Midwestern Alliance in STEM (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0533197).