Making National Science Week inclusive: Empowering STEM students with disabilities

Dr Ellis' TapeBlocks, is an engaging activity in which people with diverse abilities can meaningfully interact in STEM. Image: Monash University

This National Science Week, those traditionally excluded from engagement STEM activities will have the opportunity to independently participate – and thrive.

Although Australia is incredibly diverse, the demographics of our STEM workforce often falls short of representing the one in five Australians who live – and work – with a disability. And with research suggesting that diversity in STEM encourages innovation and creativity for everyone in a team, boosting inclusivity – yep, especially during Science Week – has become increasingly important.

STEM education for all

In an effort to meet the needs of those who typically struggle with gross and fine motor skills, National Science Week (August 15-23) has included the unique TapeBlocks initiative in their virtual program.

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Created by Monash University’s Dr Kirsten Ellis, the set of STEM focused maker kits allow students who struggle with the more intricate elements of STEM – building circuits, connecting wires, or manipulating 3D printed materials – the opportunity to meaningfully interact with the practical side of science, tech, engineering and maths.

Easy-to-use components include large foam blocks that can be pushed together with the back of a hand and conductive tape that replaces fiddly fine wires traditionally used in circuit-making. The adjustments enable blind and visually impaired STEM students to make circuits using vibration and sound output so they can feel and hear when they are successful.

“TapeBlocks are the only circuit making activity that can cater to a range of different ability levels. By design, they are able to be connected together with minimal motor skills,” says Dr Ellis.

“If blocks are placed on a flat surface, circuits can be created by pushing them together using only the back of a hand, there is no other electronic kit that is this easy to connect. The blocks also provide accessible feedback to blind users and there are no hidden elements.”

Those with intellectual disabilities are able to engage with the program too, which boast ‘error-tolerant’ capabilities and can be used with minimal instructions.

TapeBlocks debuted at last year’s National Science Week, and this year workshops will be held online.

Psyched on National Science Week? Our top event picks are here and here.  

Cassie Steel

Author: Cassie Steel

As Refraction’s digital editor, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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