The rapid growth of the STEM workforce has left out individuals with disabilities, according to reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pew Research Center, and Education Week. Community colleges play a critical role in the effort to broaden access in STEM education and careers to be inclusive of students and job seekers with disabilities.
CAST, the education nonprofit organization that pioneered the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, collaborated with the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) community to develop a series of case studies documenting strategies for implementation of UDL and accessibility best practices in community and technical colleges. The NSF ATE Central grant, Advanced Technological Education: Making Community College Technician Education More Accessible for Everyone (AccessATE), provides grantees with the tools and knowledge to increase the accessibility and usability of their resources and activities. As a partner in this grant, CAST is providing technical assistance on accessibility and UDL for ATE Centers and ATE research grants.
UDL is a method for addressing learner variability by providing flexible, customizable designs with the goal of giving all individuals equal opportunities to learn. The principles of UDL consider the broad range of abilities, age, learning styles, languages, literacy levels, and cultures prevalent in an education setting and in the workforce, placing the burden to adapt on the curriculum rather than the learner. UDL provides the framework for designing flexible curricula that reduces barriers to learning and provides robust support to all learners.
CAST, ATE centers, and grantees collaborated in the development of a series of case studies documenting strategies for implementing UDL and accessibility best practices in community and technical colleges, including:
- “Strategies for Active Learning in Bilingual Classrooms” — Dr. Sandi Connelly; a veteran instructor shares how she selects materials and manages instruction to support both hearing and deaf/HoH learners in biology courses.
- “Accessible Presentations of Technical Information” — Community college instructors highlight the accessibility practices they have adopted in their teaching.
- “Accessibility in a Robotics Course” — An innovative robotics curriculum designed to attract underrepresented students into STEM fields.
- “Opening Pathways to Technician Careers” — A deep dive into the design and execution of a bilingual professional development conference.
- “Cultivating a UDL Mindset” — UDL is introduced as a strategy for increasing accessibility and student engagement in lab-based community college STEM courses.
- “Biofab Explorer” — The development of an accessible, web-based career exploration resource designed to expose and attract young people to the biofabrication industry.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary." BLS.gov, February 24, 2022, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm, retrieved March 25, 2022.
Kennedy, Brian; Fry, Richard and Funk, Cary. "6 facts about America's STEM workforce and those training for it." pewresearch.org, April 14, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/14/6-facts-about-americas-stem-workforce-and-those-training-for-it, retrieved March 25, 2022.
Schneiderwind, Joe and Johnson, Janelle. "Why Are Students With Disabilities So Invisible in STEM Education?" edweek.org, July 227, 2020, https://www.edweek.org/education/opinion-why-are-students-with-disabilities-so-invisible-in-stem-education/2020/07, retrieved March 25, 2022.
The Postsecondary National Policy Institute. "Students with Disabilities in Higher Education." September 26, 2021, https://pnpi.org/students-with-disabilities-in-higher-education, retrieved March 25, 2022.