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Increasing Access to Space Science

Cassandra Runyon
Education & Public Outreach
Delivered As: 
Abstract Text: 

The participation of persons with disabilities as STEM professionals is highly underrepresented, making up a mere 7% of all employed professional scientists and engineers [NSF 04-317]. On average, students with disabilities represent about 11% of the total population of undergraduates. Graduate students with disabilities comprise about 8% of the total population of graduate students in the science and engineering disciplines [NSF 04-317]. Very few classrooms, or schools, have adequate resources to accommodate students with disabilities; although IDEA 2004 states that “…educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educational results for children with disabilities.” In the higher education community, inclusive learning environments persist, integrating students with disabilities into mainstream classrooms. Here still, inadequate physical resources (i.e., tactile models and graphics) are available to fully support these students. By increasing access to the STEM fields for college students with disabilities and by improving the quality of teaching of these disciplines, it is likely that more students with disabilities will consider pursuing STEM careers in the future. This includes increasing the availability of accessible resources for these students, particularly for those students who are Blind/Visually Impaired. Through our current grants with two SSERVI teams, SEEED and CLASS, we are working to correct this by making SSERVI content more accessible. We have been working closely with NASA over the last decade to produce three tactile guides: A tactile guide to the Solar System, Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters and Mars Science Laboratory. Now, in coordination with SSERVI Central and NASA Headquarters we are developing four new tactile guides: Getting a Feel for Eclipses, Touch the Spectrum, Understanding Small Bodies in the Solar System and Ocean Worlds. Each of these include an oral guide to help the user/viewer through background information and STEM content illustrated in the tactile graphics. Access to the digital text is provided via a QR code and link to SSERVI’s web site: . Kinesthetic and hands-on activities associated with each tactile help to further explain the content shared in the tactiles. These resources will provide a unique opportunity for people with visual impairments to experience the wonder of NASA missions and SSERVI science.

SSERVI Identifier: 

Recognizing that science and human exploration are mutually enabling, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to address basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies. As a virtual institute, SSERVI funds investigators at a broad range of domestic institutions, bringing them together along with international partners via virtual technology to enable new scientific efforts."