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

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

CSU Guide to Completing the Voluntary Product Evaluation Template (VPAT)

Voluntary Product Evaluation Template (VPAT) for Smart Science® Online Science Labs

Accessibility of ALEKS Course Products

VPAT and Accessibility info for MERLOT

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