Disability, Inclusion, and Informal STEM Education (ISE)

July 1st, 2015

In 2008, CAISE convened an Access Inquiry Group in order to examine how the field of informal science education thinks (and acts) about disability and inclusion. The group developed and released a white paper on Inclusion, Disabilities, and Informal Science Learning in 2010. Using that paper as a starting point, this post revisits the theoretical background behind inclusion efforts in informal STEM education, and examines existing projects set in museums, the media, and youth and community programs.

Universal Design

A central concept for designing inclusive experiences and settings is universal design, which is based on the understanding that visitors’ physical, cognitive, and social abilities will fall on a continuum. Rather than seeing disability as a deficit, universal design encourages program leaders to think about inclusivity from a project’s inception and to incorporate multiple means of engagement so that all visitors can participate. Universal design has been incorporated into a variety of informal learning experiences and settings. For example, the Museum of Science, Boston produced a white paper on Universally Designed Museum Programming that provides a detailed account their efforts to incorporate the principles of universal design to their public programming through a community of interest and a design charette. The Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISENet) has also disseminated guides for incorporating universal design into programs and exhibits throughout their community.

Project Examples

The Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded a number of informal learning projects that aim to broaden participation through greater inclusivity. Here are some examples: Creating Museum Media for Everyone This collaborative project between the Museum of Science, Boston, WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), and Ideum used a workshop approach to develop an inclusive museum exhibit about data presentation. Human + The Human + project actively involved people with disabilities in the development of an exhibit about assistive technologies using participatory design. The exhibit focuses on the way that technology can be used to restore and enhance human abilities, and engages visitors in the engineering process. National Center for Blind Youth in Science The National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS) is a project designed to increase blind students’ access to science museum experiences through targeted programming for blind youth and professional development for preservice teachers. Kinetic City Empower This project is focused on incorporating the principles of universal design into the existing Kinetic City Afterschool program, with the hypothesis that making these activities more accessible to students with disabilities will simultaneously strengthen the learning outcomes for all participants. Have you created inclusive exhibits or programming in your institution, or evaluated similar programs? Share your experiences by leaving a comment or submitting resources to InformalScience.org.

Photo: New York Hall of Science, Human + Exhibit