Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Emily Moore

Second Advisor

Clayton Lewis


Interactive science simulations, built by the PhET Interactive Simulations Project at the University of Colorado, rely heavily on visual representations to achieve their learning goals. This prevents students with visual disabilities from using those simulations. This paper examines one simulation, Capacitor Lab: Basics, as a case study on the implementation of keyboard navigation and auditory descriptions in PhET simulations. By manipulating a parallel DOM, it was possible to provide HTML equivalents of every Javascript element of the simulation, allowing a screenreader to access the descriptions. Keyboard navigation and auditory descriptions were designed and refined based on interviews with screenreader users. Through these think-aloud interviews, students' ability to learn concepts related to capacitors was assessed. The interviewees explored how to light the lightbulb and change the capacitance of the capacitor, and were successful in both goals. Findings suggest that these designs can support students with visual impairments to successfully learn from the simulation.