Students with disabilities "show a strong capacity for science and math," researchers say.

Colleges and universities have shown concern about the growing gender gap in science, technology, education, and math (STEM), and Georgia Tech has found another group often left out of STEM studies: students with disabilities.

The university announced Feb. 23 that it would create and oversee a STEM training program hosted in the Second Life virtual world where disabled students would create avatars and receive free help from educators and experts in every STEM field.

The project, known at the university as Georgia STEM Accessibility Alliance (GSAA), was launched with $3 million in funding over five years, and will be available to students in high school, college, and graduate school, according to the school.

Robert Todd, a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech and a leader of the GSAA, said the STEM virtual tutoring would be tailored for student with “learning disabilities, blindness, motor skill problems, or cognitive issues,” along with other disabilities.

Todd said recent research has shown that many high school and colleges students deemed to have learning disabilities actually have “superior intelligence, but are hampered by specific cognitive processing issues.”

These students, he said, “experience sensory or physical limitations, but likewise show a strong capacity for science and math.”