The Penn State Accessibility Technology and Information group will host the first STEM Accessibility Mini Symposium October 31from 9:00 a.m. to noon in 508 Rider Building. The event features instructors and learning designers sharing their methods for making technical STEM content accessible to all students, particularly students with visual impairments.

The presenters will compare methods for delivering accessible STEM content such as online equations, share techniques for creating accessible complex images, chats, and tables, and explore the latest technologies such as 3D printing.

Objectives of the STEM Symposium include:

  • Compare different methods for producing equations that can be read on a screen reader
  • Share techniques for presenting complex images to different audiences
  • Discuss methods for simplifying table structure for markup
  • Explain how accessibility methods can improve overall usability

Elizabeth Pyatt, instructional designer with Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT), said the STEM Symposium meets a definite learning need in the STEM world. “One of the larger challenges that a lot of course developers and instructors have been facing, in terms of accessibility, is technical courses,” Pyatt said. “Because there are lots of complex graphs, tables, and equations that can be tricky to make accessible in a screen reader. So, for awhile now we’ve been working on a way to share different strategies that different people have developed, and a conference is a good way to do it.”

Pyatt and TLT colleagues are working with the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, World Campus, and the Eberly College of Science to organize the event. The presenters for the event include Pyatt; Jennifer Babb, instructional design assistant with the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute; Stanley Smith, associate professor of mathematics and director of online instruction for the Department of Mathematics; Michael Brooks, assistant manager of accessibility and usability, World Campus; and John Dougherty, graduate student in information science at Penn State Great Valley.

Brooks said that attending the STEM Symposium is important for those involved in STEM education so they be sure that they are prepared to offer a disabled student the best possible learning experience. “The likelihood of a student with accessibility needs entering their course is becoming higher and higher,” he said. “It’s important for learning designers and faculty to at least think about that whenever they’re designing their courses.”

Anita Graham, manager of accessibility and special projects with World Campus and one of the STEM Symposium’s organizers, said that the event offers advice on how to work with students with accessibility needs from people who have actually worked with disabled students in the past.

“The event will expose them to several different methods for making accessible some of the complex items in mathematics and engineering courses,” Graham said. “By attending the event, attendees would have a starting point at least if there is ever an accessibility request in one of their future courses.”

Smith added that the event will raise awareness in something important for making STEM education; the fact that making a course accessible is much easier than before. “It’s exciting to see an accessibility event that is science-oriented,” he said. “Technology is really starting to catch up with the need, and we can do some accessibility work on our courses without a lot of training.”

For more information including event session schedule and how to register, please go tohttp://accessibility.psu.edu/stemsymposium.

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