Summarizes research about the participation of students with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and makes recommendations about which interventions might best increase their ability to contribute to the field.

“The persistent underrepresentation of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce must be addressed across the spectrum of K–12 and higher education. This publication focuses specifically on the challenges and potential solutions for broadening the participation of students with disabilities (SWDs) pursuing undergraduate and graduate STEM degrees and careers. Despite efforts to date, the underrepresentation of PWDs in STEM workforce is an enduring problem that must be addressed with renewed emphasis on the comprehensive strategies...” (p.3).

The resource “contains chapters prepared by four groups of invited authors who shared their pertinent research findings, expert knowledge and views on key topics pertinent to this topic” (p.2). Originally, the research was presented at a conference held at Purdue University in 2013, although the content of the resource is applicable nationwide.

The four chapters address the following topics:

  • “Chapter 1, ‘Technologies to Facilitate the Active Participation and Independence of Persons with Disabilities in STEM from College to Careers,’ addresses strategies and assistive technologies to overcome the physical barriers that SWDs often face when pursuing STEM fields of study and careers...
  • Chapter 2, ‘Interventions with College Students to Increase the Representation of Persons with Disabilities in STEM Careers,’ examines academic problems, motivational and attitudinal factors, and skill deficiencies that have traditionally limited the representation SWDs in STEM fields…
  • Chapter 3, ‘College Students with Disabilities in STEM: Expanding Opportunities by Enhancing Communication of Evidence-Based Information with Stakeholders,’ focuses on strategies to enhance communication among stakeholder groups in order to improve the utilization of evidence-based technologies and methods that promote the success of college SWDs in STEM.
  • Finally, Chapter 4, ‘On the Sustainability of Programs for Students with Disabilities: Observations and Practical Ideas,’ explores the problem of sustaining programs and strategies that show promise for increasing the inclusion of SWDs in STEM disciplines” (p.2).
(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The resource recommends the following interventions to increase the participation of students with disabilities (SWDs) and persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the STEM field: “Assistive Technologies. Assistive technologies and accessible environments allow SWDs to perform typical scientific activities required for acquiring active learning experiences and to be more independent in graduate research and STEM careers. Although SWDs may be physically accommodated in STEM classrooms, practical learning occurs in biomedical laboratories, engineering workshops, during fieldwork, and even by flying aircraft. For SWDs to experience the same real-world and hands-on STEM learning opportunities that students without disabilities are typically afforded, efforts must be focused on curricular participation, not just institutional accessibility. Programmatic Interventions. Programmatic interventions can assist SWDs in overcoming attitudinal, psychosocial, and educational barriers during STEM higher education. For example, first-year college transition support, summer research/work internships, and mentoring programs appear to positively impact SWDs success in STEM… Communication. A wide range of interdisciplinary data are pertinent to improving the inclusion of PWDs in STEM fields, making effective strategies to communicate evidence-based information to stakeholders—PWDs, educators, employers, and researchers—crucial to driving change. Different communication approaches are needed to uniquely inform and empower stakeholders to make positive changes toward increasing PWDs in STEM. Sustainability. Achieving the full inclusion of PWDs in STEM disciplines is a complex task that requires a longitudinal approach incorporating the efforts of multiple institutions. Only through assuring the long-term viability of research and implementation programs can external pressure from stakeholder groups sustain and advance STEM inclusion efforts. Sustainability of successful initiatives requires constant innovation while maintaining essential core values” (p.3). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)