Accessible Interactive Simulations to Create a More Inclusive STEM Experience

Concurrent Session 10

Brief Abstract

Faculty struggle to provide students with disabilities access to interactive and engaging STEM learning experiences. We will discuss and experience the results of a new R&D effort to make the popular PhET Interactive Simulations from University of Colorado Boulder accessible to all students, including students with visual and mobility impairments.


Dr. Kathy Perkins directs PhET Interactive Simulations at University of Colorado Boulder, and is a faculty member in Physics Education Research. Her work focuses on advancing the design and classroom use of interactive simulations to increase engagement and learning in STEM, and on scaling impact with open educational resources. She previously directed CU’s Science Education Initiative. She has authored over 60 articles on STEM education. In recent years, her team launched PhET-iO sims – interoperable sims enabling customization, integration, and data – and has been a leading innovator in accessible simulations, creating new opportunities to advance learning and assessment for all students.

Additional Authors

Dr. Emily Moore is Director of Research and Accessibility for the PhET Interactive Simulations project at the University of Colorado Boulder. Dr. Moore's work is in the field of inclusive educational technology. Her work advances the development and use of multi-modal interactive learning resources that support accessible, effective, and enjoyable science learning for all students, including students with disabilities. Dr. Moore conducts research on simulation design, and student use and learning with simulations in middle school and undergraduate settings. She also investigates teacher facilitation strategies during inquiry-based learning with simulations. Dr. Moore designs and advises research, data collection, and analysis across various instructional contexts that utilize simulations. She has extensive experience in simulation design and pedagogical use of simulations, developed through observation and analysis of hundreds of students using PhET simulations in classroom and interview settings. Dr. Moore has authored over 25 journal articles, book chapters, and conference proceedings in the areas of science education, educational technology, and accessibility. She has also directed teacher professional development videos, and co-designed numerous classroom activities with middle school and college teachers – available for use through the PhET website.

Extended Abstract

Providing students with disabilities with equal access to learning is a significant challenge in many STEM classes. PhET Interactive Simulations are used by teachers all over the world to support student engagement in science inquiry - in online, blended, and classroom environments. Historically, highly interactive learning tools, like these interactive simulations, have lacked accessibility for students with disabilities. With $4M in funding from the National Science Foundation, the PhET Interactive Simulations project at University of Colorado Boulder has been laying the technical and pedagogical foundations for how to effectively make highly interactive environments accessible for students with a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities.


With new accessibility features, PhET simulations can now be used to create a more inclusive learning experience by supporting students with visual or mobility impairments in engaging in science inquiry. In this session, we introduce the Accessible PhET simulations, their new capabilities, and ways you can utilize these resources to support students with significant visual impairments or blindness, or mobility impairments.


Accessible PhET simulations provide new opportunities for students to access typically inaccessible interactive learning resources. The accessible simulations come with verbal description, sound, and/or alternative input capabilities that allow students with significant visual impairment or blindness, and students with significant mobility impairments, to access the exploratory learning experiences typically not available to them. The results are learner-centered simulation environments that provide opportunities to meet the diverse needs of students with visual or mobility impairments.

The research work is detailed at our accessibility page,, and includes iterative interview testing with students to examine and refine useability and interpretation.