Keyboard and Screen Reader Accessibility in Complex Interactive Science Simulations: Design Challenges and Elegant Solutions

  • Emily B. MooreEmail author
  • Taliesin L. Smith
  • Jesse Greenberg
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10907)


Interactive science simulations are commonly used educational tools that, unfortunately, present many challenges for robust accessibility. The PhET Interactive Simulations project creates a suite of widely used HTML5 interactive science simulations and has been working to advance the accessibility of these simulations for users of alternative input devices (including keyboards) and screen reader software. To provide a highly interactive experience for students, science simulations are often designed to encourage interaction with real-world or otherwise physical objects, resulting in user interface elements being implemented in ways either unrecognizable as native HTML elements, or that require fully custom implementation and interactions. Here, we highlight three examples of simulation design scenarios that presented challenges for keyboard and screen reader access. For each scenario, we describe our initial approach, challenges encountered, and what we have found to be the most elegant solution to address these challenges to date. By sharing our approaches to design and implementation, we aim to contribute to the general knowledge base of effective strategies to support the advancement of accessibility for all educational interactives.


Web accessibility Usability Inclusive design  Keyboard navigation Alternative input Text description  Interactive science simulation 



We would like to thank the PhET team, our collaborators at the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University and the Sonification Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and research participants for their contributions to the design and development of the accessibility features for the three simulations discussed in this work. This material is based upon work supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Science Foundation under DRL-1503439 and DRL-1621363.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily B. Moore
    • 1
    Email author
  • Taliesin L. Smith
    • 1
  • Jesse Greenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA

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