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National Science Foundation ISE 0638793 MarshAccess:
Accessible Field-based Science Experiences for Adults with Disabilities

MarshAccess is the name of the informal science education program based at the Meadowlands Environment Center in Lyndhurst, NJ. Marsh Access seeks to engage largely underserved populations of young and older adults with disabilities, as well as older adults with age-related limitations, in outdoor experiential STEM activities centered on the New Jersey Meadowlands marsh ecosystem. Program modules are designed to increase interest in science, increase scientific literacy, develop a sustained relationship between the MEC and the target audience and audience service providers, and improve the facilitation skills of all MEC staff in working with individuals with disabilities.

Grant Objectives:

  1. Develop two (2) STEM content-enriched experiential learning modules using principles of Universal Instructional Design:
  2. Use technology, including assistive technologies, for innovative and effective program delivery:
  3. Identify adaptations, teaching strategies, presentation techniques, and assistive technologies that enhance the participation of adults with a variety of disabilities in field experiences and hands-on science activities.


The science is organized in the following modules:

  • What’s in the Water? - salinity, dissolved oxygen (DO), and pH of the brackish water in the Meadowlands marsh.
  • The Food Web - plant and animal life in the Meadowlands marsh; primary producers and top consumers in the food web.
  • Human Impact on the Meadowlands - how humans have changed the habitat of plants and animals in the Meadowlands marsh.
  • Natural and Human History of the Meadowlands - what the Meadowlands marsh looked like before humans arrived, and how humans used the marshes to meet their needs.

Each module includes experiments, hands-on activities and computer labs assignments.

Accessible Science Exploration through Universal Instructional Design and
Program Modifications

Universal Instructional Design

All modules are designed according to the principles of Universal Instructional Design (UID). UID incorporates multiple approaches to providing instruction and materials that meet the needs of diverse learners in contrast to the "one-size-fits-all" approach, and emphasizes the need for flexibility and alternatives for learners with differing abilities in how they see, hear, speak, move, read, write, attend, organize, and remember. Examples of UID included in all programs, for all disability groups:

  • Sound field system with instructor microphone and speakers, with assistive listening devices available as desired by participants
  • Assistive listening head-sets during field experiences
  • Instructional materials in alternate formats, including Braille, large print/high contrast, audio, and tactile representation
  • Large print version of any PowerPoint presentations
  • Step-by-step written instructions with accompanying visual instructions
  • Specially designed field tools (e.g. long-handled easy-grip nets for dip-netting; beakers with tactile markings) Lap trays, lap viewing boxes for all to use
  • Accessible software for creation of ejournals
  • Computers equipped with assistive technologies for alternative input, screen enlargement and voice output


Program Modifications / Adaptations / Teaching Strategies

Providing accommodations, adaptations, and special teaching strategies for specific disability groups is a work in progress.  These programmatic features are implemented, observed, and evaluated for appropriateness to the disability or barrier under consideration, and usability and effectiveness in achieving access to the task at hand.