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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
others may passively consume science news stories as “background noise” on television or radio during the workday or at home, a hearing impairment prevents this. Given limitations to their access to spoken language, hearing-impaired students’ may have less access to specialized forms of science language (e.g., Lemke, 1990; Lehrer and Schauble, 2006; National Research Council, 2007). This compounding of limitations on learning science for people with disabilities presents both a serious challenge and an exciting opportunity for learning science in informal venues.
The literature on science learning in informal environments for people with disabilities is extremely thin, yet it offers some useful analyses of the factors to be considered and the practices that may enable or enhance participation. There are two prominent ways of framing the issue. On one hand, educators and researchers explore the specific challenges associated with accessing science learning experiences in informal environments as those experiences are currently construed. This includes analysis of the gaps between the skills and practices required to participate in informal venues and the ability profile of learners in order to develop interventions and technologies that will enable participation. On the other hand, disability can be thought of as situated and culturally determined (McDermott and Varenne, 1995, 1996). From this perspective, the notion of ability is defined in light of a particular task and setting, and an individual’s ability to complete it (or not) and conventional labels used to characterize “disability” are not valid. The label of disability is instead applied to the interaction between a particular individual and a particular task.
In addressing accessibility, educators and researchers attend to a variety of concerns, from simply getting participants through the door to how to make experiences relevant and accessible to people with physical and sensory disabilities. The cost of enrolling in science learning programs in informal settings and visiting informal institutions for learning science may be prohibitive for people with disabilities, as they experience higher rates of unemployment (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006). Physical access to place-based science learning and programs can be complicated or even impossible for many individuals.1 People who are visually impaired may struggle to navigate designed spaces in order to find exhibits of interest. Programming interactive science experiences for a diverse public (e.g., participatory labs, field-based investigations) also requires analysis of the ways in which people with disabilities can and cannot engage. For example, there may be limitations in how a physically disabled person can participate
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires any entity that receives federal funding to make reasonable accommodations to ensure that facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. See the accessibility guidelines at http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm.