Making science more accessible for people with disabilities

A biologist examining a skull. Credit: Antro Illustrated

The pandemic caused changes in the workplace that were beneficial to people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM), but there are fears that these accommodations will be reversed. With International Day of Persons with Disabilities taking place on December 3, a research team that includes professors from Binghamton University, The State University of New York is calling for ways to make work in STEMM more accessible.

“We are hearing more and more about how nice it is to be ‘everyone’ together again, as well as the calls to put the pandemic behind us and the increasingly strident demands for ‘normalcy’ before the pandemic,” said Katherine, an associate professor of anthropology. from Binghamton University. Wander. “We are concerned that the lessons learned during the pandemic will be lost.”

Wander, along with University of New Mexico Associate Professor of Anthropology Siobhán Mattison, and others, outlined the situation and the framework for possible solutions. The paper draws on insights from disability studies, an interdisciplinary field of research that explores the ways in which disabilities are created by social and biological processes. Many people within STEMM are unaware of disability studies and may not see these social dimensions, the authors said.

Disability exclusion dynamics also overlap with other exclusion dynamics, such as those based on sex/gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. While each type of exclusion has elements in common, they also have their own unique dimensions, the authors acknowledge.

Wander points to commonalities among exclusion experiences to consider how they might best be mitigated. Working from home, for example, not only benefits some people with disabilities, but also people from racial or ethnic minority groups, some of whom have found that remote work alleviated much of the prejudice they experienced in the workplace. That being said, not everyone finds remote work accessible, as it depends on decent internet access, among other factors. In short, there is no single, simple solution that will increase the inclusion of any group.

Instead, the authors advocate a three-pillar approach: flexibility, accommodation, and modification (FAM).

Providing more flexibility in the workplace will expand the contributions of people with disabilities and others who face various constraints, such as the need to care for family members. When extensive flexibility is not possible or sufficient, accommodations must be available to help individuals achieve the core functions of their role. Modifying job duties can also help STEMM retain the knowledge and efforts of people whose disabilities sometimes or persistently impede their ability to work in jobs not designed for them.

However, adopting FAM strategies implies changing long-standing practices and could imply some financial costs for institutions. However, the benefits to science, students and patients are likely to be substantial, say the authors.

Ultimately, the FAM approach can benefit everyone. While someone may not consider themselves disabled today, injury, illness, and aging can change their circumstances in the future. The long-term COVID phenomenon, the authors note, reminds us that no one is more than one disease away from having lasting disability.

“Inclusion is a proactive responsibility. If we’re going to say everyone deserves a seat at the table, then we need to make sure there are seats for everyone,” Mattison said.

Coauthors, in addition to Mattison and Wander, include Logan Gin of the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University, Allistair Abraham of the George Washington University Department of Pediatrics, Megan Moodie of the University of Washington Department of Anthropology. California—Santa Cruz and Feranmi Okanlami of the University of Michigan Family Medicine, Physical Medicine, and Rehabilitation program.

The document, “Community Voices: Expanding Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine Among People with Disabilities,” was published in nature communications.

More information:
Siobhán M. Mattison et al, Community Voices: Expanding Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine Among People with Disabilities, nature communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-34711-w

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Citation: Making Science More Accessible for People with Disabilities (December 4, 2022) Accessed December 4, 2022 at html

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