Zero Barriers in STEM Education

Diversity Equity Accessibility and Inclusion Graphic

In 2015, there were nearly 40 million Americans with a disability, representing 12.6% of the civilian non-institutionalized population (Pew Research, 2017). Yet, individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in STEM fields (NSF, 2017). In addition, little research exists regarding how students with disabilities learn science concepts (Andersen & Nash, 2016), even though science content linked to grade-level general education science standards has been mandated for these students since 2004.


In a desire to respond to this challenge, the Smithsonian Science Education Center established The Zero Barriers in STEM Education: Accessibility and Inclusion initiative. This initiative, initially funded by General Motors and Smithsonian Accessibility Innovation Funds, offered teachers in DC Public Schools professional learning opportunities, high-quality science content and materials to strengthen their ability to use inclusive strategies in their classrooms – ensuring that all learners along the continuum of human ability have robust STEM experiences. Participating teachers initiated change in their schools by leading a team of their peers in identifying a problem of practice related to accessibility in STEM learning.  


 In the pilot year, Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) partnered with District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) to pilot the Zero Barriers in STEM Education initiative. Participating teacher leaders received Smithsonian Science curriculum and professional development to support them in integrating universal design for learning principles into their STEM instruction and classroom culture.