Encouraging STEM inclusivity for those with disabilities during National Science Week
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Encouraging STEM inclusivity for those with disabilities during National Science Week

by Freya Lucas

August 13, 2020

As part of National Science Week 2020, Monash academic Dr Kirsten Ellis will demonstrate how STEM activities can be more equitable and inclusive for those with disabilities and unique needs. 


Many STEM focused activities are not designed to meet the unique needs of those with disabilities, who may struggle with the gross and fine motor skills required for more intricate elements of STEM such as building circuits, connecting wires, or manipulating 3D printed materials. 


As a result, people living with disabilities are often excluded from STEM altogether. To overcome this, Dr Ellis developed TapeBlocks, an engaging activity in which people with diverse abilities can meaningfully interact in STEM.


TapeBlocks use blocks, conductive tape and electronic components, including LEDs and vibration motors, to ensure that those with limited fine motor skills, hearing or vision challenges can access the STEM space, with the task becoming adaptable to different levels of experience and abilities.

During National Science Week, held 15-23 August, Dr Ellis will be giving people who have traditionally been excluded from technology engagement activities the opportunity to independently participate in her online TapeBlocks workshops.


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


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


TapeBlocks enable people who are blind and visually impaired to make circuits using vibration and sound output so they can feel and hear when they are successful. Those with motor disabilities make the most of the chunky blocks by pushing them together without requiring fine motor skills. 


Those with intellectual disabilities are able to engage with the TapeBlocks, which are “error-tolerant” and can be used with minimal instructions, providing instant feedback through the vibration and lights. 


Mike Flattley, CEO of the Royal Society of Victoria, said the blocks fit directly with the goals for the Society during Science Week.


“We believe that science is for everyone,” he said, “which means removing as many barriers as possible to participation, whether those be physical, cultural, economic or the sheer tyranny of distance. Our warm thanks to Dr Kirsten Ellis on bringing that guiding principle to life.” 


TapeBlocks debuted at last year’s National Science Week, and in 2020, workshops will be held online, with kits and training materials being sent out to a wide range of local and regional disability support organisations. 


To learn more about National Science Week and to register to the online TapeBlocks workshop, please visit: https://www.scienceweek.net.au/

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