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Accessibility and Virtual STEM Platforms

MERLOT is committed to helping you choose the best available materials for your students based on quality of the content, its pedagogical effectiveness, ease of use, and accessibility. The following information is provided to help support your understanding of accessibility as it relates to virtual Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) labs.

Accessibility Considerations During Adoption

All instructional materials—whether developed or adopted—must be usable by all students regardless of disability status. Our efforts align with WCAG 2.0 AA accessible technology requirements. Thus accessibility should be a key component of the selection process for virtual STEM labs. When considering a virtual STEM lab platform listed on this website, we suggest you take the following actions:

  1. Review the vendor's accessibility documentation. Each platform on this site should have, at a minimum, a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) that describes the product accessibility support. Note: If you are unfamiliar with how to interpret accessibility documentation, seek guidance from accessibility experts on your campus.
  2. Select the most accessible platform that meets your pedagogical requirements.
  3. Plan for accessibility gaps. Coordinate with campus accessibility experts to develop an Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan (EEAAP) that documents how the campus will ensure equal access to the curriculum for users with disabilities through accommodations and other workarounds.

Understanding Disabilities

There are many types of disabilities that may be represented in your STEM course. They most common include sensory disabilities (e.g. vision, hearing) mobility impairments, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, neurological disabilities (e.g. autism spectrum), and psychiatric disabilities.
Students with specific disabilities may encounter accessibility barriers with curricular materials if these materials have not been universally designed. Some examples include:

  • Students with hearing disabilities may be unable to use audio and video materials if transcripts and closed captions are not provided
  • Students who are blind may be unable to access images within digital versions of books unless text descriptions of these images are provided
  • Students with mobility impairments may be unable to use websites that require the use of a mouse

From Where I Sit Video Series

"From Where I Sit" is a powerful video series featuring eight CSU students with disabilities who share their experiences in the college classroom. They tell their stories by answering five questions:

  1. What is your disability?
  2. What made you decide to come to college?
  3. What is it like in the classroom?
  4. What do you have to do to keep up with the class?
  5. What suggestions can you offer to faculty that will make their classroom more accessible?

We are indebted to these students of the CSU for telling their stories and helping our culture change to one of more inclusion. See below for more information about this project. Each story is approximately 6 minutes in length and is Closed Captioned.



Lana finds herself in college at age 40 after Retinitus Pigmentosa takes away her sight, her career, and her future. She decided to return to college but it meant she had to learn many new skills. In this video she demonstrates her accessibility tools and describes how she manages her course work and her relationships with professors.



Gregoire, from Cameroon, was deafened by contracting the mumps when he was in grade school. He received a scholarship to a university in the United States and majored in Spanish. Remote captioning was used in the classroom and he took all classes without an interpreter.



LaDonna enlisted as a Marine and developed a learning disability from vaccinations she was given before going to war. Hear her compelling story of how she chose college to be a role model to her son. LaDonna graduated from college in the Spring of 2009.



Tiago grew up around the gangs in Oakland and feared that he might not live to be 21. Rescued and adopted my an adoring family, Tiago was diagnosed at age 29 with a Learning Disability. Once he knew why learning was so difficult for him, he could talk to professors and work out a way to take the classes he needed to earn a Master's Degree. He's now working and helping kids stay in school at the same school that kicked him out as a teenager.



Kellie was born deaf but learned to speak with the help of hearing aid, but an accident in her childhood robbed her of all of her hearing. She decided at age 13 that she wanted a cochlear implant. She has worked hard to keep speaking, has completed her education and has become a counsellor for the disabled. During college, she helped faculty know how to accommodate a deaf student in their classroom.

Gloria A.

Gloria A

Gloria A. was challenged by a Bipolar disorder and ADD. Unable to take medication for ADD, she struggled to stay focused to read textbooks to get through college. She talks about looking normal to professors and overcoming her fear of talking to them.

Gloria B.

Gloria B

After years in a professional career, Gloria B. became unable to physically disabled and unable to keep her career. She had chosen a career that bypassed her Learning Disability, but she had to return to school and face the fears she had left years ago, to get through college with a Learning Disability.



Confined to a wheelchair, Yvette presents a compelling story about physical accessibility in classrooms and how she copes with the barriers and challenges.


Accessibility and Virtual STEM Labs

Virtual STEM labs tend to incorporate a wide variety of content types including but not limited to:

  • Print (e.g. articles, tutorials, instructions, user support information)
  • Images (e.g. photos, drawings, charts)
  • Interactive objects (e.g. virtual lab equipment, assignments, exams)
  • Audio (e.g. lectures, equipment recordings)
  • Video (e.g. simulations, experiment recordings)

Each of these content types present unique opportunities and challenges for users with disabilities. Whether a given virtual STEM platform is accessible depends on several factors including whether:

  • The technology architecture of the platform (e.g. Flash, Java, HTML5) supports accessibility
  • The platform developers incorporated accessibility support
  • The content (e.g. lessons, tutorials) designers incorporated accessibility support

Virtual STEM labs that have strong accessibility support are a promising method for improving access to STEM courses for students with disabilities. For example, a student with a mobility impairment who is unable to navigate within a physical lab space or manipulate lab equipment may be able to complete lab activities in a virtual environment.  

Conversely, virtual STEM labs that lack accessibility support have the potential to deny students with disabilities access to STEM courses. For example, a student with a visual impairment who is unable to perceive or operate the virtual lab equipment will be unable to complete lab activities.

Voluntary Product Evaluation Templates and Accessibility Information