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Serving Youth With Special Needs

Connected Science Learning April-June 2019 (Volume 1, Issue 10)

By Beth Murphy

In the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education community, we are well aware that “the representation of certain groups of people in science and engineering education and employment differs from their representation in the U.S. population” (NSF 2017). Included in these underrepresented groups are people with disabilities, whose participation in STEM education and occupations is often impeded by various barriers.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Center for Applied Special Technology’s Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a “framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” The goals of UDL are to minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students. This framework goes beyond strategies to improve access—importantly, it also focuses on effective practices for providing the support and challenge necessary to help young people persevere and develop the skills and knowledge necessary for success.

The National Equity Project reminds us that “any system produces what it was designed to produce.” This is as true of human-designed systems such as education as it is of any natural system. Education as a system has the goal of producing graduates prepared for life, work, and citizenship—this is the intended outcome for all individuals who enter the system, not just some. How can we effectively change the system of STEM education to make this more of a reality for all?

Issue 10 of Connected Science Learning—with installments in April, May, and June—explores research-based resources and promising programs for engaging young people with special needs in STEM learning experiences happening in schools and in the community.

This installment of CSL also includes a special feature: an interview with NSTA executive director David Evans and ASTC president and CEO Cristin Dorgelo, who share their perspectives on CSL’s focus and how it can help promote a thriving STEM learning ecosystem. This interview also includes an invitation for you to join the conversation. Help us take advantage of the journal’s online platform to engage in a broader dialogue and shared learning across all STEM learning environments.


Beth Murphy, PhD ( is field editor for Connected Science Learning and an independent STEM education consultant with expertise in fostering collaboration between organizations and schools, providing professional learning experiences for educators, and implementing program evaluation that supports practitioners to do their best work. 


National Science Foundation (NSF). 2017. Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering.

Disabilities Equity Inclusion STEM Informal Education

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