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Chini, J. J. and Scanlon, E. M., “Teaching physics with disabled learners: A review of the literature,” in The International Handbook of Physics Education Research: Special Topics, edited by M. F. Taşar and P. R. L. Heron (AIP Publishing, Melville, New York, 2023), pp. 1-1–1-34.

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The first author identifies as a white cisgender woman with anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

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The second author identifies as a white cisgender woman with migraines, anxiety, and depression.

Disability is an often-overlooked aspect of diversity. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15% of the world's population identifies as disabled, yet there is a dearth of knowledge and literature about supporting disabled learners in postsecondary physics courses. The goal of this chapter is to synthesize and critique the extant literature about how instructors can teach physics courses in ways to support disabled leaners. Through a systematic literature review, 66 sources were identified which discuss physics, teaching, and disability. In the extant literature, 51 sources are written for practitioners and 15 sources contain novel research. Overall, the literature includes suggestions and solutions to respond to access needs and begins to explore experiences of disabled students and the role of instructors and higher education administrators in supporting the variety of students' needs, abilities, and interests. Findings and implications are disaggregated by suggestions for practice and for education researchers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines disability as “an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions” (World Health Organization, 2001). Furthermore, the WHO specifies that disability reflects “the interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which he or she lives. Overcoming difficulties faced by people with disabilities requires interventions to remove environmental and social barriers.” This focus on the interaction of an individual with the physical and social environment is a hallmark of the social model of disability (Shakespeare, 2006). The social model of disability contrasts with the medical model, which emphasizes interventions aimed at changing or fixing the disabled individual, and other models that position disability and overcoming barriers as an individual's responsibility. To apply the social model to physics instruction, instructors should focus their attention, time, resources, and effort toward making the learning environments more accessible and inclusive, rather than trying to change individual disabled students.

Physics instructors should plan for learner variation when designing and implementing courses. However, research has shown that faculty across academic disciplines lack knowledge of accessibility laws (Thompson et al., 1997; Zhang et al., 2010; and Baker et al., 2012), and do not feel prepared to support disabled students3 in their courses (Leyser et al., 1998; Norman et al., 1998; Reed et al., 2003; Rao, 2004; and Evans et al., 2017). Within STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, research has found that STEM faculty are generally less amenable to the use of accommodations in their courses and hold more negative beliefs about disabled students than faculty in other academic disciplines (Schoen et al., 1986; Lewis, 1998; Rao, 2004; and Skinner, 2007). Further, popular, research-based introductory physics curricula have not historically been designed to support disabled students or provide details for instructors about how to make modifications to support disabled students (Scanlon et al., 2018). The purpose of this chapter is to review the literature related to teaching physics with disabled students to make suggestions for practice and for education researchers. The goal of this work is to move physics communities toward social justice and equity of access, support, and inclusion of all learners regardless of their disability status.

Postsecondary instructors typically do not know personal details about students, such as their disability diagnoses, which may seem like an impediment to reducing barriers in the learning environment. However, all people, regardless of their disability status, have a variety of needs, abilities, and interests (Scanlon and Chini, 2018). Design frameworks such as universal design for learning (UDL) broaden the instructor's focus from responding to emergent individual needs (e.g., via the use of university mandated accommodations) to proactive, inclusive design that inherently supports a wider variety of students without the need for specialized design or adaptation. To support this shift in framing, the findings in this chapter are sorted by instructional purpose and application rather than disability or impairment. The following subsections summarize the statistics about representation, legal requirements, experiences of disabled people in STEM, and state of access for disabled students in higher education.

Shifting definitions and ways of identifying disabled people complicate both representation estimates and identification of trends across time of the proportion of the population who identify with one or more disabilities. In 2011, the WHO estimated that 15% of people worldwide identify with a disability, an increase from prior reports that had the estimate at 10% (WHO, 2011). In 2016, the Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimated 11% of the U.S. working-age population identified with a disability, with the most common disability types described as “ambulatory” (5% of working-age population) and “cognitive” (4.5%; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2021). In the U.K. 18.6% of working-age women and 18.8% of working age men reported having a disability (Kirkup et al., 2010). The Economic and Social Commission for Asian and the Pacific (ESCAP) states that the majority of ESCAP member States underreport the prevalence of disability in their population, with reports ranging from 1% in Laos to 24% in New Zealand (ESCAP, 2017). Researchers have struggled to find statistics in some regions, such as the European Union, Australia, and South Africa (Sukhai and Mohler, 2016). Yet, barriers to participation vary widely across cultures. For example, the World Report on Disability states that “many children drop out of school in Brazil because of a lack of reading glasses, widely available in most high-income countries” (2011). Disabled people represent a significant population worldwide.

The lack of statistics about disabled individuals across countries means little is known about disabled students' participation in undergraduate and graduate education globally. In 2016, 19.5% of undergraduate students in the U.S. reported one or more disabilities, and students who reported disabilities participated in undergraduate STEM education at a similar rate (28%) as students who did not report disabilities (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2021). Studies in the U.K. find a different trend at the postgraduate level, with “disabled STEM students 57% less likely to take up a postgraduate STEM study than non-disabled students” (Fell et al., 1985).

As of 2019, Canadian researchers reported that statistics do not exist in the number of disabled students in postsecondary STEM majors or STEM occupations (Prema and Dhand, 2019). Following legislation mandating the provision of assistive devices in educational institutions, Slavin (2014) surveyed all postsecondary physics departments in Canada to benchmark the participation of legally blind students in postsecondary physics. No respondents were aware of low vision practicing physicists in Canada, and only two “legally blind” physics students were reported (Slavin, 2014).

In the United States, longitudinal studies such as the National Longitudinal Transition Study—2 (NLT-2) allow researchers to explore trends in undergraduate student populations. Using the NLT-2, Lee (2011) found that disabled students were more likely to enroll at two-year colleges than non-disabled students, and at two-year colleges, disabled students were more likely to enroll in STEM majors than non-disabled students. Additionally, disabled students in STEM majors reported receiving fewer accommodations than disabled students in non-STEM majors across all institution types in the U.S. This discrepancy in accommodation use could be due to the attitudes and beliefs of STEM faculty (who have been shown to be less willing to provide accommodations than their colleagues in other academic disciplines), the nature of the course (e.g., physics instructors could experience difficulties knowing how to accommodate in a lab setting or with mathematical representations), and/or students requesting less accommodations. In further analysis of the NLT-2 data set, Lee (2022) found that students enrolled at a two-year college who identified as having a “a problem conversing” were nearly 5 times more likely to enroll in a STEM major than those who did not identify as having difficulty conversing (Lee, 2022). Additionally, disabled students from lower economic backgrounds were more likely to enroll in a STEM major than disabled students from higher economic backgrounds. The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the U.S. reports that students who reported having one or more disabilities were likely to be older than their peers who did not report disabilities (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2021). Overall, disabled students represent a sizable fraction of postsecondary STEM students.

In the United States, approximately 10% of employed scientists and engineers identified with one or more disabilities, with reported disability rates somewhat higher among men than women and somewhat lower among Asian scientists than non-Asian scientists; both trends are possibly related to the relative age of these demographic groups (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2021). However, workforce studies have found that while a much higher percentage (34%) of employees would fit current U.S. federal definitions of disabled, only one-third would disclose their disability status to their employer (more in line with the 10% of employed scientists and engineers cited earlier) and fewer would disclose to their colleagues (Sherbin et al., 2017; and Jain-Link and Kennedy 2019). Disabled individuals who intend to join the STEM workforce are more likely to be employed (65%) than disabled individuals in the U.S. overall (32%; Lee, 2022). In the U.K., disabled individuals comprised about 10% of the science, engineering, and technology workforce in 2003 and 2008 (Kirkup et al., 2010). Median salaries are about the same for disabled and non-disabled individuals within science and engineering occupations, and median salaries for science and engineering occupations are significantly higher than those for non-science-and-engineering occupations (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2021). STEM careers can provide a path to economic security. Since STEM education is the main mechanism by which individuals join the STEM work force, it is essential that STEM education supports disabled students.

While legal requirements vary by country (Sherbin et al., 2017), several international standards shape local laws. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) states that co-signing countries should “ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning” to support the development of a sense of dignity, self-worth, personality, talents, creativity, and mental and physical abilities, such that disabled people can “participate effectively in a free society.” The United Nations catalogs national disability laws and acts (United Nations, n.d.). The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), provide a universally accepted set of digital accessibility guidelines which have been used as accessibility standards in national laws (see WCAG Web Accessibility Laws & Policies site, for examples; Worldwide Web Consortium, 2019).

However, as Prema and Dhand (2019) explicate in a Canadian context, the existence of laws does not directly translate to full inclusion of disabled students in STEM education. In Canada, disabled individuals are protected from discrimination by “quasi-constitutional” human rights legislation, such as the provincial Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which includes equal access to education. These common laws and codes require “post-secondary institutions to accommodate students with disabilities until undue hardship,” which courts and tribunals have assessed via “cost, external sources of funding if any, health and safety requirements” (Prema and Dhand, 2019, p. 129). However, “educators are often unsure of how to apply the legal requirements of the duty to accommodate appropriately for students pursuing STEM, while balancing the factors of health, safety and cost” (p.123).

Prema and Dhand explain that “Canadian human rights codes fail to create ‘positive obligations’ which ensure inclusion and accessibility within post-secondary institutions” (Flaherty and Roussy, 2014, p. 8). Instead, the legislative framework sets up complaint procedures, mechanisms for accommodations if requested, and compensation for past wrongs in cases of discrimination (Flaherty and Roussy, 2014). As Flaherty and Roussy (2014) suggest, this leads to an ‘ad hoc enforcement of human rights,’ which is described as the following: ‘[T]he onus of asserting rights or identifying Code breaches rests with students. In a manner of speaking, this leads to an ad hoc enforcement of human rights, where only those who complain see their rights enforced. As a result, those students who lack the will, endurance, means or ability to lodge a formal complaint may continue to be victims of discrimination’ (p. 8)” (Prema and Dhand, 2019). Thus, physics instructors must go beyond the minimal legal requirements to support disabled students.

In the last half century, there have been myriad reports and guides designed to assist instructors and administrators in supporting disabled students in the postsecondary physics setting. This section includes a belief overview of these materials. In the early 1980s, an NSF-funded project employed a critical incident technique to collect examples of (in)effective instruction experienced by blind students in postsecondary STEM in southern California for the purpose of improving STEM instruction for visually impaired students. Interviews with 105 blind students revealed effective teaching practices that provided access to information, enhanced motivation and interest, and allowed for social interaction and flexibility with time. These teaching practices include concrete learning experiences (i.e., relating concrete models and materials to abstract concepts), creative use of learning materials (i.e., field trips, multisensory learning experiences), and detailed descriptions and explanations (i.e., teacher clearly verbalizes visual information, such as writing and images). Ineffective teaching behaviors were described as the absence of these effective behaviors (Sica, 1982).

In the early 1990s, Sheryl Burgstahler, writing in the context of the NSF-funded University of Washington DO-IT (disabilities, opportunities, internetworking, and technology) program, described the main factors leading to underrepresentation of disabled people in science, engineering, and math as “preparation of students with disabilities; access to facilities, programs, and equipment; and acceptance by educators, employers and co-workers.” Burgstahler proposed solutions such as encouraging disabled students to be self-advocates, encouraging them to take high school science and math courses and connecting students with disabled role models. Burgstahler (1994) called for increased access to technology for disabled students. However, she still identified negative attitudes as “the single most significant barrier faced by individuals with disabilities pursuing careers in science and engineering.”

In the late 1990s, with support from NSF and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Seymour and Hunter (1997) conducted a study to contribute to the ongoing debate about the cause of underrepresentation of disabled students in STEM. Through interviews and focus groups with a total of 65 disabled students, the authors investigated their education and work experiences. They found that “given the many types and degrees of medical conditions which are encompassed by the term ‘disability,’ one way to understand the commonality of their experience is to see all students with disabilities as students who are ‘time-disadvantaged’” (p. 167), meaning that their impairment(s) coupled with their learning experiences cost them more time than their non-disabled peers. Faculty and STEM professionals held narrow ideas of the time required to engage in and complete tasks that were not inclusive of the needs and abilities of the disabled participants.

In 2014, the AAAS published “Fostering Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in STEM,” which focused on four broad topics: (1) facilitating disabled student participation with technology; (2) interventions for college students to enhance retention, persistence, and career readiness; (3) dissemination of evidence-based technologies and methods for supporting disabled students; and (4) sustainability of programs for disabled students. Thus, the conversation about how to support disabled students in STEM has not changed much since the 1990s.

In 2008, the Institute of Physics (IoP), a professional society based in the U.K., published Access for all: A Guide to Disability Good Practice for University Physics Departments (Institute of Physics, 2008). Access for All describes the main barriers to participation in physics for disabled individuals as environmental, institutional (i.e., admissions policies and teaching methods), and attitudinal. The guide points out that in the U.K., the Disability Equality Duty “requires universities to be proactive in ensuring that disabled people are treated fairly” (p. 7). “This means that universities and departments must anticipate the general requirements of disabled people with a range of impairments and health conditions rather than waiting until a disabled person requests a particular adjustment. There is no defence for not making a ‘reasonable adjustment’. If an adjustment is ‘reasonable,’ then it must be made” (p. 12). Additionally, the guide states, “To ensure that they are not discriminating against disabled applicants, universities must be able to demonstrate that the competence standards that they use for selection are appropriate and necessary; applied equally to disabled and non-disabled applicants; a proportionate means to achieving a legitimate aim” (p. 19). Thus, the guide offers a cultural shift toward anticipating the range of needs that contrasts sharply with the “ad hoc enforcement of human rights” described by Flaherty and Roussy (2014) a few years later in Canada.

In 2016, Sukahi and Mohler, both disabled scientists themselves, wrote Creating a Culture of Accessibility in the Sciences, which is a book targeted at higher education faculty, administrators, and employers across the STEM fields. This book provides insights and discussions of best practices to increase the accessibility of science for disabled people. Creating a Culture of Accessibility in the Sciences approach is novel in that it provides a comprehensive list of practices coupled with a suggested roadmap that higher education and industry professionals can implement to support disabled people. Additionally, Sukhai and Mohler describe the multiple roles that disabled students often take in the sciences: student as an educator (focusing on the role of students in self-advocating and educating others about disability topics), student as learner (focusing on how to support disabled students in postsecondary science courses), and student as mentee, trainee, and leader (focusing on how to support disabled students in research settings).

In 2021, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) published a white paper commissioned by its Committee on Laboratories called Increase Investment in Accessible Physics Labs: A Call to Action for the Physics Education Community (Dounas-Frazer et al., 2022). The authors “call on the physics community to invest time, energy, and resources to increase the accessibility of undergraduate physics labs” (p. ii) and include a list of ideas for investment, testimonies from current and former disabled physical science students, a glossary of common disability terms, and appendices written by disabled students with suggestions of how to support students' specific impairments. Thus, the call-to-action cast students in all three roles identified by Sukahi and Mohler, learners and trainees in undergraduate labs as well as educators who can help the physics community better support disabled students.

Overall, recent reports have trended toward proactive support for disabled people in STEM; yet, much work is still needed. The STEM community should continue to learn from the disability community and shift from “ad-hoc enforcement of human rights” to a “positive obligation” to fully include disabled individuals.

In 1994, the Science Association for Persons with Disabilities (1994) published a bibliography of over 1000 publications related to teaching science to disabled students. In the nearly thirty years since this publication, language around disability has changed, yet many of the topics highlighted in the bibliography remain prevalent in the literature today, such as teaching students with specific impairments (e.g., blind students, deaf and/or hard of hearing students, autistic students, and cognitively impaired students), technology-assisted instruction, and inclusion of disabled students in all educational settings.

In 2010, Leddy wrote an overview of the National Science Foundation's Research in Disabilities Education (RDE) program highlighting the need for rigorous research designs to examine the efficacy of technologies to support learning, degree completion rates, and transition to the STEM workforce for disabled individuals. An external evaluation across the program identified practices that contribute to the persistence of disabled students in STEM degree programs, including financial support, cooperative learning experiences, research experiences, off-campus externships, mentoring, and participation in STEM clubs, activities, and learning communities. However, open questions remained about the format of mentoring and optimal match between the mentor and mentee. While many projects have developed accessible technology to engage learners in STEM, the technologies had not been broadly adopted by high school and postsecondary education (Leddy, 2010). Thurston et al. (2017) further described findings from their synthesis of the NSF-RDE program. They identified common challenges including that disabled students did not receive adequate preparation for postsecondary STEM courses due to low expectations and insufficient access; lack of understanding, knowledge, skills, and cooperation from administrators, faculty, and staff; lack of accommodations such as accessible technology, accessible buildings, and accessible learning spaces; and lack of identifying, recruiting, and tracking disabled students to measure program impacts. Thurston et al. highlight successful practices, including engaging campus disability service offices to provide accommodations; cataloging and using existing campus and community resources before developing new resources; using a variety of recruitment and support strategies; and providing professional development for faculty staff, and administrators, and support for universal design for learning. PIs of RDE projects also had suggestions for facilitating a cultural shift in faculty and staff toward more positive attitudes and beliefs about disabled students, including adopting the socio-cultural model of disability and “using ‘PR’ campaigns about the strengths of students with disabilities” (p. 56).

In line with Leddy's (2010) recommendation for rigorous research designs, Schreffler et al. (2019) conducted a systematic review of empirical literature published in peer-reviewed journals between 2006 and 2019 on UDL in postsecondary STEM. They identified four studies and three literature reviews. Thus, while some researchers have begun to use rigorous methods and examine UDL rather than solely accommodations, there is still a dearth of empirical literature to support best practice. Another systematic literature review, conducted by Kolne and Lindsay (2020), focused on peer-reviewed articles published between 1993 and 2008 reporting an empirical investigation of STEM interventions for disabled students. Kolne and Lindsay identified a small number of publications (N = 17) that met their inclusion criteria. Kolne and Lindsay state that the strongest evidence was found in two studies of virtual mentoring programs “in the context of perceived self-efficacy and in combination with STEM-specific training” (p. 541). Positive outcomes were reported for STEM interest, pursuit of STEM education and careers, and participants' self-concept, as well as for all course-based interventions. Kolne and Lindsay reiterate the call for more rigorous, controlled research designs and examination of specific intervention components as well as raise the need for studies to explore issues of intersectionality (i.e., disability and gender) and the effects of interventions in various educational settings and countries.

Applying a different framing to assess the state of STEM education research, Li et al. (2020) analyzed trends in STEM education projects funded by the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences (IES) from 2003 to 2019 (N = 127). IES specifically funds research in special education, a term from K-12 education that originally referred only to disabilities but has since broadened to include other populations, such as English-language learners and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The researchers found that 28 projects in the “Special Education Research” category focused on disabled individuals and identified three relevant projects in the “Education Research” category, accounting for 24.4% of the projects. Across both funding programs, Li et al. found that the majority of funded projects were “development and innovation” (i.e., focused on developing new interventions; 45.7%), followed by “efficacy and replication” (i.e., focused on investigating impact; 26.8%) and “measurement” (i.e., developing and revising assessments, 16.5%). Longitudinal trends suggest a possible shift toward efficacy and replication studies, perhaps in response to calls for such work, as described above. Li et al. concluded that “Research on STEM education with special participant populations is important and much needed. However, related scholarship is still in an early development stage” (p. 9).

Traxler and Blue (2020) synthesized disability frameworks to “distill themes to guide the study of disability in physics,” which they identify as essential since such frameworks are “deeply embedded and implicit” in doing physics education research (PER) (p. 132). Frameworks differ in where disability is placed (i.e., an individual condition solved via individual intervention in the medical model, vs an interaction between a person's impairments and social structures, solved via social design, in the social model). Traxler and Blue elevate the importance of being precise about the goals of research, contrasting accessibility research guided by the hope that someday no accommodations will be needed while valuing “neurodiversity and the diversity of bodies” (p. 139). The DisCrit (Annamma et al., 2013) framework amplifies the importance of intersectionality, or the effect of combinations of identities, as “diagnoses and experiences of disability play out in racialized ways” (Traxler and Blue, 2020; p. 143). Traxler and Blue summarize several key ideas that should shape the future of research on disability in physics: disability is interlinked with other facets of identity, question “who gets to belong” and “who is normal,” and the importance of telling one's own story about one's self. Traxler and Blue's discussion provides key ideas that can guide PER in the future.

Overall, this review of the state of STEM education research on disability indicates that not much has changed in the last fifty years. There is a need for both empirical research that evaluates the efficacy of interventions across learner populations and educational settings as well as explicit use of frameworks to shape research and detail beliefs and assumptions about disability. The purpose of this chapter is to present and critique extant literature at the nexus of physics, teaching, and disability.

Several methods were used to identify sources to include in the chapter. Physics education journals (i.e., American Journal of Physics, The Physics Teacher, Physics Education, Physical Review Physics Education Research) were Boolean searched with the keyword “disab∗.” Then, Google Scholar was used to search for “physics OR STEM AND disab∗.” To broaden the search, the references cited by the identified publications were examined, and Google Scholar was used to identify publications that had cited the identified publications. Overall, we searched for sources from November 2020 through June 2021 and identified 205 potential sources. The term “sources” is used as sources beyond journal articles, such as reports and dissertations.

Next, a portion of the sources were reviewed to define exclusion criteria. For this chapter, the exclusion criteria were

  • sources focused only on K–12 education with no significant discussion of higher education or the STEM workforce (28 articles removed);

  • sources focused only on another STEM discipline, including astronomy or pre-service teachers (if source focused on broad science, it must specifically focus on physics as well; 45 articles removed);

  • sources which did not have sections focused on disability or have significant findings or discussion about disability (9 articles removed).

  • sources which did not focus on teaching and learning (e.g., campus-wide support programs; technology/equipment without examples for physics teaching; 14 articles removed);

  • sources other than articles, reports, dissertations, and book chapters (e.g., personal websites). Additionally, sources that the authors could not locate in English were not included (11 articles removed)

  • sources that did not have implications for instructional practices and/or physics education research (34 articles were removed, many of which were included in the introduction and/or future direction sections).

After applying the exclusion criteria, 66 sources remained. These sources were then reviewed and sorted by audience (conducted by/for education practitioners or by/for STEM education researchers) and topic (laboratory practice, general education practice, technology, conceptual understanding, and universal design for learning). Identification of related literature was challenging because few articles cited related extant sources (i.e., the extant literature is not a well-connected network).

This chapter summarizes 66 sources that describe education and research at the nexus of physics, teaching, and disability. The earliest of these sources was published in 1965 and the latest in 2021, with a median publication year of 2014 and an average of 2008. The sources focused on a variety of disabilities/impairments. Sixteen sources focused on disability in general without disaggregating impairment types, and 8 focused on multiple categories of impairment. Many sources focused on specific impairments, including 29 focused on visual impairments (i.e., blind, low-vision, screen-reader user), 6 focused on cognitive impairments [i.e., attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities], 4 focused on hearing impairments (i.e., deaf, hard-of-hearing), 6 focused on multiple types of impairments, and 3 focused on physical/mobility impairments (i.e., mobility impaired, wheelchair users). None of the sources focused on health or emotional/mental health impairments.

Additionally, the sources were of many different types, including journal articles (49), books and book chapters (4), reports (2), conference proceedings (10), and dissertations (1). Journal articles have been published in many journals, including The Physics Teacher (6 articles), Physics Education (6), and Proceedings of the Physics Education Research Conference (5). Five additional journals each published two articles, and an additional 20 journals each published one article. The sections below include a summary of the findings and suggestions for practice and research from these 66 sources. The findings are disaggregated by the audience. The findings for practitioners are written to provide concrete suggestions for practice, whereas the findings for researchers include methodological information and suggestions for researchers.

This section includes articles written for and by practitioners. The main emphases of these articles are instruction and include suggestions for practice. Many of the identified sources described teaching strategies that the authors had used and/or developed to include disabled students in their physics courses. The subsections below present a review of this literature disaggregated by the aspect of the course the source focused on, including the laboratory setting, lecture demonstrations of physics content, virtual simulations of experiments and concepts, lecture and direct instruction strategies, textbooks, and general inclusive instructional practices. This section is not disaggregated by disability or impairment because there are suggestions for practice that span disability types.

Descriptions of how to modify existing laboratory equipment to include disabled students in the physics lab setting was the most commonly discussed course aspect (24 of the 66 sources). Sources discussed multiple ways to ensure the laboratory environment and experiments are accessible to students who were categorized as (a) modifications to existing equipment; (b) accessible laboratory tools and assistive technologies; and (c) methods and tools to make specific experiments accessible.

In the first category of modifications to existing equipment, sources written over five decades describe how to make physics laboratory equipment accessible to visually impaired students (Henderson, 1965; Baughman and Zollman, 1977; Weems, 1977; Gough, 1978; Stewart, 1980; Cetera, 1983; Windelborn, 1999; and Brazier et al., 2000). Suggestions synthesized across these sources for supporting visually impaired students include

Relatedly, Supalo et al. (2007) described the programming modifications required to make Vernier's Logger Pro compatible with a common screen-reader software called JAWS (Job Access With Speech). Screen-reader compatibility is crucial to support visually impaired students. Supalo et al. provide a key connection between data acquisition tools that are commonly used in introductory physics laboratory courses and commonly used assistive technologies. Thompson (2005) focuses on providing access to LaTeX files for visually impaired students through the use of LaTeX2Tri. This tool allows users to input TeX, Word, and PDF files and the tool converts them to WinTriangle, which the author states is “the working language of many blind or visually impaired students and researchers…completing the loop of mathematical communication between the blind and sighted communities” (p. 1).

Along the same vein, Azevedo and Santos (2014a, 2004b) describe modifications to optics equipment that can be made to support visually impaired students. Specifically, the authors describe how ray tracing diagrams can be created via magnets representing the ray, optical axis, object, and image, and a magnetic board to support students to tactilely engage with the diagrams. Similarly, de Azevedo et al. (2015) suggest shining laser beams on students' hands or arms in order to allow them to feel the laser beam as a means to provide tactile access to laser light. The authors also include safety information for shining laser beams on the skin.

To support students with physical/mobility impairments (i.e., wheelchair users in this study), Bernhard and Bernhard (1998) discuss the feasibility and advantages of using microcomputer-based labs (MBL) where the digital data collection is possible. Nowadays, the use of computers and digital data acquisition tools (e.g., Pasco and Venier products) is common, and with small modifications could be used to support disabled students. Similarly, Frinks (1983) identified two accommodations required to support a wheelchair-user in accessing introductory physics labs: the table heights and utility access controls should be altered so that the student could access and engage with the tools while seated in their wheelchair. These accommodations nowadays are commonly incorporated into building designs due to the prevalence of universal design in architecture as well as local legal requirements (e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act in the U.S.).

In the second category, sources describe specially designed accessible laboratory tools to provide access to the experiment, equipment, and/or data for disabled students. Carver (1967) describes the design and implementation of a light probe that can be used by visually impaired students to detect motion. In particular, the author described the design and circuitry of such a light probe, as well as a short description of how to use the light probe. The light sensor can be “focused at short object distances as a microscope, at intermediate distances as a ‘flag’ for moving objectives, and at infinity for certain optical experiments” (p. 61).

Van Domelen (1999) introduced an artificial right-hand rule device that is made of a clear, plastic rectangular prism with vector arrows on three sides. This tool can assist students who have dexterity difficulties, students without right hands and/or the fingers used in the rule, and other students who have difficulty visualizing the three-dimensional vectors involved in the rule.

Tomac et al. (2016) use wooden blocks that have been calibrated to correspond to smaller distances to replace calipers to support visually impaired students. To provide virtual access to in-person experiments using microscopes, Mansoor et al. (2009) created the AccessScope application that allows students to remotely access and operate a microscopy workstation. This is especially important in the COVID/post-COVID era where people do not travel as frequently and others at high risk of illness limit their exposure. To support students with low vision, Cole and Slavin (2013) describe a video assistive device that allows users to view laboratory equipment or text by magnifying an image of the target. To help blind and sighted students learn the differences between displacement and distance, Bülbül et al. (2013) created a tool using a CD a string. The string is pulled across the CD and is used to measure the displacement of an object moving around the perimeter of the CD. This tactile tool is accessible to sighted and visually impaired students.

In the same vein, there are articles that focus on how to make a piece of equipment accessible for specific groups of disabled students. For example, Negrete et al. (2020) describe the use of a dial with slits and a photogate sensor to allow data audification for visually impaired students. Specifically, the rotating dial periodically blocks the photogate sensors. The photogate sensors are then connected to a device that converts the photogate signal to sound.

In the final category, additional sources discuss how to make a specific experiment and/or topic accessible to students. To support wheelchair-users, Bernhard and Bernhard (1999) describe an experiment where students use wheelchairs on ramps with a motion detector to help students understand basic kinematics. Specifically, students measure the motion of a wheelchair-user rolling down a ramp and discuss the kinematics and/or forces. Similarly, Bülbül (2009) discusses access for visually impaired students when learning about optics. The author developed instructional materials called KAGOAD (Küresel Aynalarda Görüntünün Oluşumunu Anlatan Düzenek, which translates to the mechanism describing the formation of the image in spherical mirrors in English), which uses tactile representations of curved mirrors and light rays. These representations involve a foam board, needles, string to represent the light rays, and sugar cubes to represent the object and image.

To support hearing impaired students, Truncale and Graham (2014) described an experimental setup aimed at allowing hearing impaired students to engage in a sound laboratory focused on determining and plotting hearing sensitivities. In this article, Truncale and Graham describe an electro-optical eardrum that measures vibrations of a synthetic eardrum membrane via a laser. This allows students to engage in the activity without requiring the use of hearing.

There are many reasonable and appropriate reasons why an instructor would want to allow students to engage with a virtual simulation of an experiment or concept instead of a hands-on laboratory including (a) accommodating a student who has to miss class and/or lab; (b) teaching via remote instruction (as was commonly required due to the Covid-19 pandemic); (c) to support students with physical, dexterity, and/or mobility impairments whose access to the laboratory equipment is not supported; and (d) for students with attention difficulties (such as ADHD) to allow them to rework through the laboratory at their own pace.

There are numerous articles in the extant literature about how to support students via one platform of virtual simulations called Physics Education Technology (PhET) simulations. The PhET research and development team recently launched an accessibility initiative with a goal to provide access to the simulations to a wide range of users. The PhET team has written about the following accessibility features.

As of the writing of this article, there are 33 PhET simulations about a variety of physics and chemistry topics that include at least one accessibility feature. There is one additional article written about non-PhET simulations. Farrell et al. (2001) focused on accessibility features of a spring force simulation that utilized force feedback (i.e., feedback given to the user about the strength of a force via motions of the mouse). In this study, the authors simulated the relationships between a spring length, applied force, and spring constant. The authors describe the effect of the force feedback on visually impaired and non-disabled students.

There are few sources that describe best practices for direct instruction (i.e., lecture, didactic instruction) in physics courses and all of these sources center on visually impaired or hearing impaired students. Across these sources, the literature suggests

  • using tactile, three-dimensional representations during class to help describe physics concepts to support visually impaired students (Sevilla et al., 1991).

  • allowing visually impaired students to use the accessibility tools of their choice. Parry et al. (1997) found that one student preferred to use Braille to conduct calculations, while another preferred to do calculations in their heads. Lannan et al. (2021) also suggest that instructors provide support and training for students about how to use these assistive tools.

  • converting all visual course material into an accessible format, such as audible or tactile formats. Holt et al. (2019) also suggest that instructors should work with the visually impaired student and a staff person from the local disability services office to identify and address the individual needs of students.

  • using visual and tactile modalities in place of auditory information to support hearing impaired students (Lang, 1973).

  • using “See and Feel” sensory-focused pedagogy (i.e., where students will see and feel a phenomona) to provide access to lecture material and demonstrations for hearing impaired students (Vongsawad et al., 2016).

Creating accessible demonstrations to be showcased in the lecture, recitation, and/or laboratory setting is also important to ensure equitable access to the course. Three sources were identified discussing demonstrations of physics concepts, and they all focused on supporting access for visually impaired or hearing impaired students. Goncalves et al. (2017) pose a demonstration of the relationship between period and length for a pendulum by converting the pendulum bob's position to a sound frequency (via the use of an Arduino, an ultrasonic sensor, and a speaker).

Lang (1981) and Vongsawad et al. (2016) both describe how to provide access to sound concepts for hearing impaired students. Lang suggests the use of an oscilloscope to provide access for hearing impaired students to a Kundt tube and suggests using a ripple tank to showcase the Doppler effect. Vongsawad et al. describe the use of a Ruben tube demonstration (composed of a speaker changing the pressure of gas in a metal pipe with holes at the top, creating dancing fire standing waves) and suggest the use of Chladni plates connected to an accelerometer whose output (and the frequency) displays on a screen can provide access to vibrational modes to hearing and visually impaired students.

Many instructors supplement the information provided to students in class via the use of textbooks. While there are numerous textbooks available to cover introductory physics content, not all textbooks have the same level of accessibility and/or support for disabled students. For example, many physics textbooks use diagrams and graphs to represent information and relationships. However, this visual information is not natively accessible to visually impaired students.

Dickman et al. (2014) describe how to adapt physics diagrams for visually impaired students by converting the information from visual to tactile representations. The authors created tactile symbols for common elements in mechanics topics such as vectors, ropes, blocks, and pulleys. They then conducted a study of the effect of the tactile representations for three blind students and found that after sufficient training, the students were readily able to identify the representations and often did not require a spoken description of the diagram in order to understand what was represented. Similarly, Torres and Mendes (2017) describe a similar method for converting visual diagrams to tactile representations. However, they do not create tactile representations for an entire element (e.g., a pulley) but instead use KitFits which include general shapes (e.g., circles, rectangles, triangles, lines, curves) that can be used to create elements such as pulleys or vectors.

Kouroupetroglou and Kacorri (2010) describe an extensive process that can be used to convert inaccessible electronic copies of textbooks into multiple more accessible formats (i.e., Braille, audio-tactile, digital audio, and large print). The authors focus on creating accessible versions of mathematical and scientific expressions as well as visual diagrams, graphs, and graphics. The authors also suggest the use of universal design for learning (described in more detail in Sec. 1.3.1.6) as a framework for how to work toward making course materials more accessible and as a means to provide options and support for students.

Lannan et al. (2021) discuss general accessibility tools that can be used in the laboratory and lecture setting for a wide range of students. In particular, the authors suggest instructors consider the universal design for learning framework and state: “the first step to implementing universal design is to examine the why, what, and how of our teaching while looking for the barriers our students frequently encounter. Instructors should ask themselves: ‘Why should students care about this topic?’; ‘What do students find challenging about this topic?’; ‘How do students show their understanding of this topic?’” (p. 3). The authors also provide specific suggestions of accessible tools including

  • reading systems that read text aloud to students (e.g., VitalSource);

  • 3D printing tactile representations of figures and graphs;

  • using virtual laboratory simulations (e.g., PhET) to provide extended temporal access to experiments;

  • talking calculators;

  • following best practices for the physical layout of classrooms;

  • training students in how to effectively use the assistive tools.

The literature corpus includes examples of general practices for instructors to engage to support a variety of students. For example, Bustamante et al. (2021) provide suggestions (from personal experience and disability literature) about how to support students with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the introductory physics classrooms. The authors suggest that instructors should:

  • initiate an open dialogue about students' needs, abilities, and interests;

  • scaffold the course content to help students stay on track;

  • provide course resources in multiple formats to allow for options in how and when students learn content;

  • demonstrate understanding that accommodations promote equity in the class.

While the authors focused their suggestions on how to support students with ADHD, the suggestions apply to all disabled students.

When trying to make a course accessible for disabled students, there are two main non-mutually exclusive paths that can be taken: individual accommodation or inclusive teaching practices. In the accommodation process, disabled students typically request accommodations for their access need(s) via the university's disability services office. This office then writes a letter to instructors describing the approved accommodations and the instructors implement the accommodation(s) for each student. Moon et al. (2012) in their report Accommodating Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics describe a myriad of accommodations that can be made to support different groups of disabled students. The other main path to include disabled students involves revising or redesigning courses to no longer center able-bodied and able-mindedness and to instead consider learner variation. To do so, instructors and course designers implement inclusive teaching practices that are designed to support a wide range of learners' needs, abilities, and interests. An important difference between this and accommodation is that inclusive teaching practices are implemented for the entire course, while accommodation is done for individuals.

Izzo and Bauer (2015), Lannan et al. (2021), Curry et al. (2006), and Duerstock and Shingledecker (2014) all suggest the use of universal design for learning (UDL) as a framework for guiding the instantiation of inclusive teaching practices.

Two identified articles fit the PER paradigm of researching students' ideas in a particular content area. de Camargo et al. (2013) analyzed the interaction of a group of four pre-service physics teachers in Brazil with one blind high school student during lessons on electromagnetism. Their analysis focused on supportive and challenging communication styles, based on “empirical structure,” or how “information is materialized, stored, transmitted and perceived” (i.e., visual, tactile, audio-visual, tactile-auditory), and “sensory-semantic structure,” or “associative references between meaning and sensory perception” (i.e., inseparable, association, unrelated, and secondary related) (p. 416). The researchers identified the linguistic profiles of 92 communication challenges as independent auditory and visual (i.e., the same information is shown visually and spoken), interdependent audio-visual (i.e., a learner needs to use both sight and hearing to access the information), and interdependent tactile-auditory (i.e., a learner needs to use both sight and touch to access the information). In the electromagnetism context, information that was presented visually included (1) figures demonstrating the processes of charging, electric and magnetic field lines, and circuit and charge configurations; (2) mathematical expressions such as equations, scientific notation, units, and graphs; and (3) values read by measurement instruments. In addition, some information was encoded in inseparable visual representations, such as the characteristic colors of light associated with phenomena. The most frequently identified communication challenge (89/92) was interdependent audio-visual/meaning associated with visual representations, such as “If I have q1 and q2, I have a distance; if I raise it here, it has to decrease there” (p. 417); here, the instructor verbally describes the relationship while visually demonstrating how the parameters are changing. The researchers found that auditory communication and communication styles that combined visual representations with auditory or tactile representations supported communication. The authors argue that tactile-auditory communication supports learning for all students and should be used more frequently in physics instruction.

Bülbül et al. (2017) conducted semi-structured interviews with six blind high school students, all girls, about the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). While this article focuses only on high school students, it explores the FCI, which is commonly used in postsecondary STEM and was included in the synthesis. Students' misconceptions about force and motion most frequently fell into four categories: (1) impetus, the belief that an intrinsic force is required to maintain motion; (2) active force, the belief that only active agents, typically living things, exert force; and (3) gravity, the belief that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects. Thus, the blind students in the study had similar misconceptions about motion as sighted students.

In a recent stream of discipline-based education research (DBER), researchers have analyzed research-based instructional strategies and curricula through the lens of universal design for learning, a framework to support instructions to proactively design instruction that supports the variation in learners' needs, abilities, and interests. Scanlon et al. (2018) analyzed popular physics written curricula, including Tutorials in Introductory Physics, Open Source Tutorials in Physics Sensemaking, Physics by Inquiry, and Next Generation Physics and Everyday Thinking, to identify examples of UDL-aligned strategies. While these curricula were not intentionally designed to enact UDL-aligned strategies, the researchers found that all four curricula enacted examples of fostering collaboration and community, and supporting planning and strategy development. Multiple curricula also enacted examples of clarifying vocabulary and symbols; and highlighting patterns, critical features, big ideas, and relationships. However, the researchers found few or no examples of practices that supported the spectrum of students' executive function skills (e.g., planning, working memory, time management, and organization), activating or supplying background knowledge, and providing multiple means of engagement. The researchers suggested that curriculum developers consider providing curricular materials in a digital format to allow students to customize the display of information and to access language translation resources; explicitly discuss the use of assistive technologies; explore and incorporate varied means of representation; vary methods of response and navigation; optimize individual choice and autonomy; optimize relevance, value, and authenticity; heighten the salience of goals and objectives; and increase mastery-oriented feedback.

In an extension of this work, Schreffler et al. (2017) used an observation protocol based on the UDL guidelines to record the enactment of UDL-aligned strategies in two studio-mode introductory physics courses and two inquiry-based general chemistry laboratories. Observations were conducted before the instructors participated in a year-long faculty learning community about UDL. The observation protocol grouped practices into four categories based on when the practice would likely occur during class: introducing and framing new material, content representation and delivery, expression of understanding, and activity and student engagement. Observations indicated that introducing and framing new material was the area of greatest strength, in terms of implementing UDL-aligned strategies, for the instructors overall; however, there were few examples of instructors assessing background knowledge prior to introducing new material or highlighting what was important for students to learn. Additionally, instructors provided opportunities for collaboration and used “clicker questions” to formatively assess students' understanding, practices aligned with activity, and student engagement. However, within this category, the researchers found few examples of opportunities for students to self-reflect and self-assess. Researchers found few examples of practices aligned with content representation and delivery, such as providing alternatives for students with visual or hearing impairments, and expression of understanding, such as allowing multiple options for how students expressed their understanding.

Google et al. (2020) analyzed a case study of “clickers” (personal response devices) to describe how UDL principles can support active learning strategies, such as Peer Instruction. Google et al. (2020) state that: (a) Peer Instruction enacts strategies aligned with UDL guideline 7 (provide options for recruiting interest) as students are given the opportunity for individual choice and autonomy by selecting their own response and defending it to peers; (b) questions can optimize relevance, value, and authenticity by using real-world examples; and (c) instructors can minimize threats and distractions by allowing quiet time for students to think before answering and presenting results anonymously. Google et al. also argue that Peer Instruction allows students to vary the methods of response, since they answer the question independently, can compare their response to the whole class via the anonymous response distribution and discuss their response with peers. Next, the researchers used a survey to explore instructors' perceptions of whether clickers would provide opportunities to support the UDL principles; their sample consisted of 39 STEM faculty at a university in the southeastern United States. Responses indicated that faculty believed clickers: (1) allow students to monitor their progress and vary methods of response; (2) “support productive feedback, individualized choices, and student autonomy and promote expectations and motivation;” and (3) highlight critical ideas and relationships. On the other hand, faculty were not “aware of how clickers could be used to promote other means of communication… can be used to support access to tools and assistive technology, as well as how clickers allow for multiple media for communication” (p. 961).

Researchers in Project ACCESSS used interviews and interpretative phenomenological analysis to describe the experiences of students who identified with executive function disorders in introductory physics and chemistry courses at a university in the southeastern United States. In an interview study with four participants who identified with ADHD, James et al. (2018) found that the lengthy lectures typical of introductory STEM courses did not support students' learning; students' learning was better supported when instructors provided breaks during lectures to engage students in clicker questions or student-centered problem-solving. The participants reported that since they were not often actively engaged in class, and they did most of their learning out of class, they described the importance of instructors sharing key dates (e.g., deadlines and exams) and training students to engage with the course materials at the start of the semester. Students also expressed the importance of testing accommodations while at the same time expressing guilt about using those accommodations. In a second study with students who identified with ADHD enrolled in introductory physics courses, researchers found additional support for these challenges (James et al., 2020). Specifically, students reported that the instructors' time management and organization (e.g., a structured course schedule) could negatively impact their ability to use personal practices essential for course success (e.g., a personal planner). Additionally, while insufficient time on tests created barriers, the extra test time accommodation was sometimes seen as an “unfair” advantage by the students and/or their peers. While one participant with ADHD explained that SCALE-UP courses supported their learning because students have greater autonomy, reducing the impact of becoming distracted, another participant with ADHD4 found that the physical layout of the SCALE-UP classroom increased distractions because there were other students in all directions.

In a later analysis with nine students who identified with a range of disabilities (five with cognitive impairments, four with emotional/mental health impairments, and one with a visual impairment), researchers identified students' challenges as related to engaging with the course content and course-related anxiety (James et al., 2019). For example, participants with ADHD reported needing more time than their peers to complete assignments, which could be compounded by STEM content (compared with non-STEM course content) and “flipped class” instructional practices. Additionally, study participants described challenges with misalignment between lectures and labs and content not seeming relevant to their personal interests. The authors explain that “Though these are likely barriers for many students, participants experienced severe consequences, such as being unprepared for assessment, withdrawing from the course, and having anxiety triggered” (p. 260). Seven participants discussed anxiety related to STEM courses, with four participants reporting an increase in frequency and intensity of anxious episodes while taking STEM courses and three participants experienced anxiety related to difficulties preparing for assessments and related to time constraints during assessments. As in the prior study (James et al., 2020) where students with ADHD explained the importance of testing accommodations, students reported that “testing accommodations were critical to the reduction of anxiety” (p. 261). The authors suggest instructional strategies to reduce these barriers based on the UDL framework, including supporting students' studying by highlighting critical features and big ideas with graphic organizers, outline, and weekly quizzes; and supporting students coping with anxiety by promoting external supports (e.g., campus counseling services) and a growth mindset.

Whitney et al. (2012) conducted a mixed-methods analysis of students' perspectives on a credit-bearing Learning Community seminar for disabled STEM majors at the University of Southern Maine. Using the social capital theoretical framework (i.e., resources accumulated through relationships that facilitate collective action), the researchers examined what students felt they gained from participation in the seminar. The researchers analyzed responses to pre- and post-seminar surveys of 43 participants, including 11 women and 32 men who predominantly (95%) identified as white; the participants identified with a range of disabilities, including (using the authors' categorization) ADHD or learning disabilities (35%), health-related disabilities (12%), psychiatric/emotional disabilities (11%), autism (7%), orthopedic disabilities (4%), hearing impairment (2%), and traumatic brain injury (2%). Survey data were complimented by a one-hour focus group interview and multiple online discussion forum posts. The researchers found that students gained multiple facets of social capital, including “knowledge, skills, access to resources, and social support” (p. 134). Based on students' responses about their expectations for the seminar, researchers identified high priorities as improved course outcomes, study habits, time management, and career exploration. Moderate priorities included increasing academic support (i.e., academic/non-academic balance, assistive technologies, and STEM career exploration) and social support (i.e., connecting with other students and faculty). Low priorities included improving self-advocacy skills, graduate school exploration/transition, and learning about outside resources and services. Post-survey responses indicated that the seminar did increase social interactions with the program staff, and to a lesser extent with faculty and peers. Additionally, the seminar allowed students to learn about assistive technologies, STEM fields, and local programs and services. However, students still felt only moderately prepared for STEM courses following the seminar.

Jeannis et al. (2019) conducted a national survey of the learning barriers and facilitators experienced by students with physical disabilities in instructional science and engineering laboratory settings. The researchers analyzed responses from 107 participants enrolled at 67 unique institutions, who ranged in age from 18 to 68 (57% between 18 and 27), were majority women (65%) and Caucasian (69%), and were in school at the time of the survey (72%). More than 50% of participants reported disabilities related to sitting, kneeling, squatting, or bending, climbing stairs, and/or lifting or carrying objects in their hands or arms. More than 40% of participants reported disabilities related to standing and/or walking. Less frequently reported impacted activities involved fine motor skills and crawling. Around 25% of participants reported barriers in the built environment, such as insufficient signage about accessible entrances. Ramps, elevators, and curb cuts were identified as facilitators in the built environment. Regarding the task execution in the lab, 50% of participants reported that their participation was limited to passive roles, such as notetaking, writing papers, or writing software. More active roles, such as setting up laboratory equipment, were limited due to physical barriers (66%) and time constraints (35%). Course material was the only facilitator commonly discussed for task execution in the lab for this population. Additionally, only 35.5% of participants selected “agree” when asked if “practices were in place to accommodate students with disabilities” (p. 229). However, at least two-thirds of the participants reported positive experiences with instructors (e.g., respectful and inclusive language) and peers (e.g., assistance from peers in completing activities).

Recognizing that much of the research on disabled students' experiences has been conducted in the Global North, Palan (2020) explored the experiences of postsecondary students with visual impairments in India. Through interviews with 29 students, Palan identified four main factors that excluded students from higher education courses in math and science, including exclusion from such courses in earlier education, inadequate support systems, inaccessible teaching practices, and limited job opportunities after graduation.

Recognizing that most investigations of UDL-aligned instructional practices had been conducted at four-year institutions, Moriarty (2007) situated her study at three community colleges in Western Massachusetts, as community colleges “enroll the greatest diversity and numbers of students with disabilities” (p. 253). Moriarty collected survey responses from 152 STEM instructors; participants largely identified as white (91%) and were split equally as identifying as men (49%) and women (51%); 36 to 51 years old (40%) and 51 to 65 years old (48%); and teaching full time (57%) and part-time (42%). Moriarty also interviewed 11 of the participants and observed 9 of 11 in the classroom. Many respondents (42%) indicated that the majority of each class period is spent in the traditional lecture format, while varied presentation strategies showed the highest reported use (3.93/5 adjusted mean). Instructors predominantly reported using traditional assessments, including exams (89%) and projects (56%), and less frequently reported using papers (37%) or portfolios (19%). On the inclusive mindset scale, 78% of respondents indicated “they agree or strongly agree that they are receptive to making changes to accommodate students with disabilities, and 75% agree that students with disabilities are capable of learning the material in their class. Respondents also agree that they try to match their teaching styles to accommodate students” learning needs (74%), and they agree that they continually look for better ways to teach and are open to new forms of instruction (88%)” (p. 257). Additionally, there was a slight trend toward instructors indicating that they did have the time and resources to develop new teaching approaches. Inclusive mindset and technology comfort level were significantly correlated with many inclusive instructional practices; these findings were supported by regression analysis, which also identified time for instructional development to be predictive of varied presentation strategies, interactive learning, student engagement, and pedagogical variety. Based on interviews and observations, Moriarty stated “It appears that for the most part, instructors are aware of diversity and the need for inclusion and attempt to teach in ways that reach a diverse population of students. Nevertheless, findings related to the use of materials and technologies in the classroom suggest that improvement is needed in the area of accessibility” (p. 260). Barriers to using more inclusive teaching methods were dominated by financial and institutional demand, such as high teaching load and lack of time to develop new methods. Overall, Moriarty concluded that the findings indicated that community college faculty “appear more knowledgeable about pedagogical practices than what has been reported in previous literature about four-year faculty” (p. 264).

Shmulsky et al. (2018) analyzed interviews with 12 STEM instructors at “a liberal arts college that serves students who learn differently” (about one-third of students had a documented autism spectrum disorder diagnosis) to identify instructors' perceptions of strengths and challenges for autistic students and general personal traits needed for success in STEM fields. Participants taught courses in biology, chemistry, computer science, physics, and mathematics. The interviewed instructors emphasized the variability in both profile and effective teaching strategies for autistic students; for example, some autistic students were viewed as concrete thinkers, while others had a strong ability to think abstractly. Thus, Shmulsky, Gobbo, and Bower qualify their findings with the essential recognition that all students are unique. Participants reported that autistic individuals tend to have STEM-relevant strengths related to attending to detail, following complex directions, and recognizing and using patterns. On the other hand, participants reported common STEM-relevant challenges related to expressing frustration, social interaction (e.g., over- or under-participating in a group discussion), and rigidity/inflexibility. Participants described how rigidity and inflexibility could be assets in STEM fields, such as supporting precision necessary for measuring chemicals, solving lengthy math problems, and debugging computer code, as well as persistence in the STEM major. The researchers conclude “Teaching implications of this research include the importance of developing and using strategies to support social interaction and critical thinking…[and] finding practical ways to engage students’ strengths” (p. 53).

Gokool-Baurhoo and Asghar (2019) interviewed 18 instructors, including five physics instructors, who had experience teaching students with a learning disability (LD) at an English-language CEGEP (publicly funded college) in Quebec, Canada. Researchers found that half of the instructors reported a lack of knowledge and skills to teach science to students with learning disability due to difficulty identifying relevant challenges and creating accessible science instruction. This was identified as a “second-order barrier,” indicating this barrier is internal to the teacher. Instructors also reported insufficient support in working with disabled students, including not knowing each student's specific disabiliti(es) and lack of training and professional development. 75% of instructors discussed “certain negative attitudes and difficult behaviours including: reluctance to share information about their LD and seek academic support from their teachers; a persistent lack of engagement with science; and difficult and anxiety-ridden behaviours” commonly exhibited by students with learning disabilities that could lead instructors to have difficulty with establishing relationships with students with learning disabilities (p. 23). Gokool-Baurhoo and Asghar identified these challenges as “first-order barriers,” meaning they are “external to the teacher and stem mostly from the environment” (p. 19). Gokool-Baurhoo and Asghar suggest that disability service office personnel “emphasize to these students that their teachers might be willing to further accommodate their academic needs, should they choose to disclose their disabilities” (p. 25). Additionally, the researchers call for hands-on, authentic professional development in supporting students with learning disabilities in science courses.

Based on views like those expressed in Gokoll-Baurhoo and Ashjar's study, Scanlon and Chini (2018) designed a framework for proactively considering how specific learning experiences may privilege and simultaneously tax particular “dimensions of ability.” Using literature from disability studies, education, medicine, social science, psychology, technology, and governmental organizations, Scanlon and Chini identified six dimensions of ability along which individuals vary (updated from original paper): physical/mobility, health, cognitive, visual, hearing, and emotional/mental health. Rather than categorizing individual students, Scanlon and Chini invite “instructors, curriculum developers, and researchers to apply the framework to the curricular materials and learning environment and ask questions such as ‘What load does this activity put on each dimension?’ and ‘Overall, does my course frequently place a high load on certain dimensions in a way that privileges certain abilities?’” (p. 2). Scanlon and Chini provide examples of using the framework to consider the expected load on each dimension for popular instructional activities. For example, they state that traditional lecture and small group problem-solving would both load high on the hearing dimension to engage in verbal communication (e.g., listen to the instructor or peers). Individual clicker questions and hands-on activities do not necessarily require students to listen to someone else, so these activities load lower on the hearing dimension. This tool is intended to allow instructors to identify and plan options for potential challenges without knowing individual students' diagnoses.

Scanlon and Chini (2020) also modified and piloted a survey of physics instructors' views about supporting learner variation. Starting with the cross-disciplinary Inclusive Teaching Strategies Inventory (ITSI; and Lombardi et al., 2011), which assesses instructors' beliefs and actions related to disability and supporting disabled students, Scanlon and Chini made modifications based on a prior pilot administration of the ITSI. In the first pilot administration, physics graduate students and physics and chemistry faculty took the ITSI and shared their thoughts; they expressed challenges, such as wanting to indicate the population of students they had in mind for each prompt and not viewing some of the prompted instructional practices (e.g., discussion board prompts) as relevant to postsecondary physics instruction. Scanlon and Chini also conducted interviews with physics instructors and discussed changes with the ITSI developer; modifications were made to allow respondents to mark the population (i.e., no students, only students with disabilities, students who need it, or all students) and to clarify instructional practices and/or make them more relevant to typical physics instruction. They then piloted the modified survey at two in-person professional conferences and collected 13 validated responses, including eight men, four women, and one non-binary person; four students, eight post-secondary faculty, and one industry member; ten participants who stated they had worked with or taught disabled students, either with personal contact with a disabled person, one who personally identified with disability, or two who stated they had no personal experience with disabled people. The pilot probed the population of participants considered within the two student categories: “only students with disabilities” and “students who need it.” Participants were given four options: “I. Students registered with the disability service office on campus, II. Students not registered with disability services office but who have diagnosed disability, III. Students who identify with disability (i.e., undiagnosed), and IV. Other, please specify. Five participants selected the only option I, two selected only option III, four selected I and II, and two selected I, II, and III.” (p. 5). Thus, most instructors selected students registered with the disability service office for the students with disabilities category and the researchers suggest that the two who did not may have been confused by the wording of option III. However, the researchers also point out meaningful variation in who respondents were included in “only students with disabilities.” Scanlon and Chini asked respondents who they included in “students who need it” as an open-ended prompt. Responses included students who express a need to the professor or self-identify as needing accommodations (6/13 participants); students who have extenuating circumstances outside the classroom, sometimes with an emphasis on a “valid” excuse (3/13); and students whose learning would be significantly impacted by accommodation. The researchers caution that “If an instructor does not have the same types of life experiences (such as disability, family, or financial) as the student requesting accommodation (which is unlikely), then the instructor may find it difficult to determine what is and is not a ‘valid’ excuse” (p. 5).

Research in physics education has just begun to explore the experiences of disabled learners. It is essential that research centers on the knowledge, skills, and experiences of these disabled learners, in contrast to prior work that has centered instructors' labor in teaching disabled students. Researchers should also explore how students and instructors' multiple identities shape the experiences of disabled physics learners.

Many of the sources in the literature corpus contain an introductory framing that is problematic; specifically, the articles cite the increase in representation of disabled students in higher education and frame this as a burden on instructors. For example, Gough (1978) states

“All too often the first inkling a science teacher has that a visually impaired student is a member of his or her class comes when they meet face to face. If you are that teacher, you may experience shock, frustration, anger, or any number of uncomfortable emotions. How can you cope with yet another "problem," you may wonder? How can you provide for that student's safety? How much extra time will you have to spend? What should the student be allowed to do, and what not” (p. 34).

More recently published articles include similar framings. An alternate and more positive framing is that all students, regardless of their disability status, have a variety of needs, abilities, and interests (Scanlon and Chini, 2018). Therefore, instructors should plan for learner variation in their courses from the start, and the presence of disabled learners in physics courses is not a surprise or aberration but instead an expected student variation.

Additionally, many of the sources in the literature corpus focus on visually impaired students. Specifically, of the 66 sources that focus on a particular type of impairment, 62% (33 sources) focus on supporting visually impaired students, while 9.4% focused on cognitively impaired students, 9.4% on physically/mobility impaired students, and 7.5% on hearing impaired students. In the literature corpus, there were no articles that focused on health impaired nor emotional/mental health-impaired students. This is concerning in the context of a recent study from Fall 2020, which shows the representations of disabled students, many of whom were enrolled in emergency-remote courses, in U.S. higher education (Scanlon et al., 2021). In this study, 61.5% of all disabled students had cognitive impairments, 41.2% emotional/mental health impairments, 17.6% health impairments, 2.0% hearing impairments, 1.4% physical/mobility impairments, and 1.4% visual impairments. Numerous participants were identified with multiple impairments. This shows that the representation of literature focused on supporting visually impaired students is disproportioned compared with the representation of visually impaired students in physics courses. Relatedly, none of the sources highlighted intersectional identities or discussed how people's intersectional identities may affect their experiences in physics learning environments.

Another trend in the literature corpus is that many recent articles include recommendations that were published decades ago. For example, Henderson (1965) and Holt et al. (2019) suggest the use of raised lines as an alternative representation of diagrams and graphs. Multiple sources suggest the use of Braille labels (even though recent trends show decreased Braille-literacy amongst blind and low-vision people; Kleege, 2006) and tactile metersticks and other measurement devices. This repetition could indicate that there has not been much uptake of these suggestions by practitioners and/or that recent authors are unaware of previous articles with similar suggestions. Relatedly, many articles do not catalog or use existing literature, campus, or community resources for developing their own. For example, many sources do not mention their local office of disability services, which are common in U.S. institutions and are the main mechanism by which disabled students receive accommodations to meet their access and inclusion needs.

Many of the practitioner-focused sources center around addressing concrete access issues, while little attention has been paid to changing instructors' beliefs and/or mindsets. For example, 24 sources focused on support access and inclusion in the laboratory setting and most sources focused solely on providing access to laboratory equipment and experiments rather than expanding to discuss broader culture and climate topics. Additionally, few articles have discussed issues related to instructor beliefs, while prior research shows that STEM faculty hold more negative beliefs about disability than their counterparts in other disciplines (Rao, 2004). Finally, the sources identified do not form a well-connected network because they infrequently cite each other.

In addition to the concrete suggestions included in the findings section, instructors should focus their efforts toward the following: (a) identifying barriers in their courses; (b) identifying inclusive instructional strategies that can lower and/or eradicate the barriers; (c) implementing the identified strategies; and (d) assessing the impact of the new strategies. As a first step, instructors should critically examine their courses along accessibility and inclusivity lines. As people all have different needs, abilities, interests, and lived experiences, instructors should include a wide range of stakeholders, including disabled and non-disabled students, in their course examinations. To identify barriers to access and inclusion, instructors should consider the different types of abilities, as described in Scanlon and Chini (2018). When identifying barriers to access and inclusion, instructors should consider a variety of students who may have strengths and limitations along each dimension of ability. If a course is composed of instructional strategies that all load high on a dimension of ability, then the course continually privileges students with strengths along that dimension while simultaneously taxing students with limitations along that dimension. This process can be used to identify barriers. Chini and Scanlon (2021) provide examples of this process in their AAAS blogpost.

Once barriers to access and participation have been identified, instructors should identify inclusive instructional strategies that can be used in their courses to reduce or eliminate these barriers. Universal design for learning (UDL; and CAST, 2018) is a design framework that supports instructors in proactively creating learning environments that support the broadest range of students without the need for specialized modifications. Recent research also includes suggestions of inclusive teaching strategies specific to physics (Scanlon et al., 2018; Bustamante et al., 2021; Chini et al., 2021; and Lannan et al., 2021). Using these tools, instructors should plan for a wide range of students' needs, abilities, and interests through iterative improvement. Next, instructors should implement inclusive teaching strategies in their courses.

Previous research in chemistry education shows that when sighted chemistry instructors worked to create alternative representations of gas law topics, the visually impaired students who used the developed tools were overwhelmed and found the tools difficult to use with other assistive technologies (Harshman et al., 2013). In order to value the lived experience and knowledge of disabled students about their own body and needs, instructors should partner with disabled students in the development of access and inclusion strategies. (Note: This does not mean that instructors should expect disabled students to explain their lived experiences, inform instructors about disability background knowledge, and be the sole advocate for themselves and their needs. Instructors should carefully consider how to ethically involve students who have likely experienced ableism and disablism in their lives and are traditionally marginalized.) Similarly, Seymour and Hunter (1997) state: “It is important for those seeking to improve the higher education chances of this group of students [disabled students] and wondering where to place their emphasis, to have clear directions from the students themselves about what they need the most” (p. 185).

Prior research shows that STEM faculty hold more negative attitudes and beliefs about disability than do their colleagues in other disciplines (Rao, 2004), and that physics faculty lack knowledge about disability diagnoses and hold beliefs about the viability of physics careers that gatekeep who are supported to join the physics professional communities (Scanlon et al., 2020; and Oleynik et al., 2021). Therefore, instructors should engage in professional development to gain knowledge and fluency with disability topics and should focus on sensemaking about disability to shift their mindsets to be more positive.

While there are numerous practitioner-focused articles on disability, there is a dearth of education studies on best practices for supporting disabled students in physics courses. Researchers should engage in additional research to: identify inclusive teaching strategies to support disabled students, investigate the unique experiences of disabled students in physics programs, and investigate the intersectional experiences of students (e.g., experiences of disabled students of color, disabled women, disabled LGBTQ + people). Additionally, much of the literature reviewed in this chapter centered on visual, hearing, and/or physical/mobility impairments. Researchers should conduct research with and for emotional/mental health, cognitive, and health-impaired students, especially since such impairments have a high prevalence in the physics community.

While identifying solutions to concrete access needs is important, many of the practitioner-focused sources did not include efficacy studies of the impacts of the solutions. Researchers should take up suggestions of solutions to access needs and investigate their impact on diverse populations of physics learners. Researchers should also move past solely focusing on access needs and investigate the broader ecosystem of higher education and systems of ableism and disablism in physics communities. Seymour and Hunter (1997) state: “in order for the potential of students with disabilities to be fully realized, and the risk of losing good students minimized, priority should now be given to changing [STEM] faculty attitudes” (p. 185). In recognition that ableism is systemic and not merely personal, researchers should investigate the systemic changes necessary to make available time and resources for instructional development. A common phrase in the disability justice realm is “nothing about us without us.” Researchers should ethically work with (not just for) disabled students to provide avenues for disabled students to share their experience and expertise about their own access needs. This also pushes back against paternalism endemic in disability advocacy.

In working directly with disabled populations, researchers should remain attentive to community identities, which may contrast with academic literature in certain disciplines. For example, person-first language has been centered in research on K-12 education, while many disabled individuals have shifted toward impairment-first language. Researchers should intentionally choose the language they use and explain their choices.

Education researchers who do not focus their work on disability also play a role. Most physics education research papers that include students do not include disability as a demographic variable and/or category. Researchers should judiciously collect disability status information and report these findings in their studies. Disabled students are present in physics courses and not including their identities in studies is erasing their existence from physics, thereby perpetuating the notion that disabled students are aberrations in physics courses. Additionally, when studies identify an interesting trend related to disability, the authors should report this trend (as an example of this practice see Gandhi et al., 2016). Everyone has a role to play in dismantling ableism in physics.

Looking toward the future, there are several essential directions for researchers in physics education to explore. First, researchers should attend to the intersectionality of individual identities and the varying impact of disability across other dimensions of identity, such as gender, race/ethnicity, national origin, sexual identity, and combinations of disabilities. Hawley et al. (2013) reviewed the literature on underrepresented minority disabled students and found “At each transitional phase (elementary school to middle school to high school to post-secondary school), large numbers of URM/SWD individuals are ‘redirected’ from STEM long-term goals as well as the educational, social, and psychological experiences necessary to achieve them” due to “several systemic and serious impediments of an educational, psychological, economic, and attitudinal nature that in the aggregate serves to severely limit the numbers of STEM candidates in higher education” (p. 94). For example, African American students are overrepresented in U.S. special education via educational diagnoses of intellectual disability and/or emotional disturbance; Hispanic students are overrepresented via education diagnoses of hearing impairments and learning disabilities. Additionally, gender, family income, and home language also increase a student's chances of being placed in special education, with disproportionate representation of boys, families living in poverty, and families who speak a language other than English at home. Students in special education are less likely to take high school course work that would prepare them for postsecondary STEM majors. Da Silva Cardoso et al. (2013) used hierarchical regression analysis to identify significant predictors of STEM goal persistence for 115 URM disabled students and found that gender, advanced placement (AP) classes, father's educational level, academic milestone self-efficacy, and STEM interest accounted for 57% of the variance in STEM persistence. Additional analysis demonstrated that the Social-Cognitive Career Theory “provides useful guidance for designing postsecondary education interventions for minority disabled students in STEM education to help crystalize their career interest and increase goal persistence” (Dutta et al., 2015, p. 159). Coleman (2017) conducted a case study analysis of four women with sensory and mobility impairments in STEM careers and found that participating women “felt more gender-based barriers during STEM education and in their career than barriers related to their disability” (p. 150). Researchers should continue to explore how individuals' multiple identities intersect with disability in the physics community.

Researchers should also zoom out from medical-model-aligned individual classroom accommodations and consider the broader ecosystem of STEM education and careers. Earlier work often called for training disabled students to self-advocate. Pfeifer et al. (2020) conducted interviews with 25 STEM majors who received accommodations for ADHD and specific learning disabilities and revised a generic conceptual model of self-advocacy for disabled individuals to focus on ADHD and specific learning disabilities in undergraduate STEM courses. Test's original conceptual framework for self-advocacy includes four components: knowledge of self, including strengths and weaknesses as a student and as a disabled person; knowledge of rights, including laws and policies relevant to the accommodation process in college; communication, including acceptable communication behaviors; and, optionally, leadership, including awareness of individuals responsibilities to advocating on behalf of others (Test et al., 2005). Emergent components of self-advocacy based on the experiences of students with ADHD and/or SLD in STEM courses included knowledge of accommodations and the process of attaining them; knowledge of the influence of STEM learning contexts on accommodation needs; “filling gaps,” or “participant actions taken to overcome limitations in formal accommodations or instructional supports” such as creating a collaborative Google Docs for notetaking in response to poor quality provided notes or finding tutors when course instructors are not approachable. Additionally, the researchers identified emergent beliefs that impacted participants' self-advocacy, such as agency and view of disability, with students who identified positive aspects of their disability more likely to access accommodations. The researchers highlight the need for more research to support or refute these proposed components of self-advocacy for undergraduate STEM. Researchers should also consider how the postsecondary STEM education system can change to lower the barrier to and/or reduce the need for self-advocacy, such as through broad implementation of inclusive teaching practices.

It is also important to zoom out from classroom accommodations to consider how disabled individuals are able to participate in the broader physics community, such as physics research. Several studies describe the integration of Deaf and hard-of-hearing (HH) students in STEM research. Pagano et al. (2015) describe a research experience for undergraduates (REU) program at an institution with an integrated school for Deaf students. They repeat that concerns about involving Deaf/HH students in research labs, such as safety, are typically due to faculty lack of knowledge rather than true safety issues. Smith et al. (2016c) summarize useful safety strategies, such as instituting an emergency notification system. The researchers describe strategies for successful undergraduate research experiences, including faculty mentors engaging in specialized American Sign Language (ASL) classes focused on “core scientific terminology and laboratory and field safety” as “even a small base knowledge of key signs can increase communication and be very effective in strengthening relationships between students, peers, and mentors” (p. 153). At the same time, Pagano et al. (2015) describe the importance of enabling Deaf/HH students to take leadership in communication and to teach the research group essential signs for the research environment. Communication facilitation, via ASL interpreters, CART specialists, texting features on cell phones, or video remote interpreting, are frequently needed in research labs and conferences. Gehret et al. (2017) surveyed Deaf/HH students and their research mentors and identified challenges such as students feeling socially isolated and missing out on “ambient knowledge” when communication facilitation was not available in the lab. Ott et al. (2020) interviewed ASL interpreters who had worked with teams of one Deaf and two hearing students during six-week internships and identified unique challenges for the interpreters in the research environment, such as deciding when and how to interpret. Researchers should continue this line of work and expand it to other impairments and STEM disciplines.

Lillywhite and Wolbring (2019) reviewed the literature for examples of research on undergraduate disabled students as “knowledge producers, including as researchers” (p. 1). They identified only 15 relevant articles and did not find any studies that investigated how undergraduate students chose a research topic or were recruited to join research projects. Lillywhite and Wolbring call for disability studies and STEM education researchers to explore the role of undergraduate disabled students as knowledge producers and researchers.

Continuing to zoom out from academic learning, Pacheco (2014) investigated career choice and participation by STEM professionals and graduate students with sensory and orthopedic disabilities through interviews with 18 participants. Findings suggested that social persuasion played an important role in self-efficacy for the participants. Additionally, assistive technology was critical for participation in STEM, and barriers to participation included gatekeepers' limiting perceptions and lack of knowledge about relevant assistive technologies.

After a long history of positioning disabled individuals as a burden in the physics community, it is time for physics education research to center the knowledge, skills, and experiences of disabled individuals and to identify systemic change that will support full participation of disabled individuals in physics classrooms, laboratories, research experiences, and the broader community.

3

Some people prefer person-first language (e.g., “students with disabilities,” “person with visual impairment,” or “scientists with a disability”) because it emphasizes the person over the ability. However, others feel impairment-first language can highlight the social aspect of disability (e.g., inaccessible curricula create disabled students) and that the difference is an integrated part of the person's identity (e.g., Autistic person or Deaf person, just as we would typically say “tall person” rather than “person with tallness”). While there are trends in specific communities, there is not a single, universally accepted language related to disability. When you are talking with an individual, it is best practice to ask them about their preferred language. Language choices varied across the references reviewed; impairment-first language will be used in this chapter (except when directly quoting sources) and terms that have been identified as likely harmful were updated to reflect modern language.

4

There is not currently commonly accepted impairment-first language for ADHD.

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