Making science more accessible to people with disabilities

A biologist examines a skull. Photo Credit: Anthro Illustrated

The pandemic brought about changes in the workplace that have proven beneficial for people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM), but there are fears these adjustments are being reversed. To mark International Day of People with Disabilities, which falls on December 3, a research team that includes faculty members from Binghamton University, State University of New York is calling for ways to make STEM work more accessible.

“We’re increasingly hearing how nice it is to be back together, as well as calls to move on from the pandemic and ever louder calls for pre-pandemic ‘normalcy’,” said Katherine, associate professor of anthropology at Binghamton University Wandering . “We fear that lessons learned during the pandemic will be lost.”

Wander, along with Siobhán Mattison, associate professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, and others, outlined the situation and the framework for possible solutions. The paper draws on insights from disability research, an interdisciplinary field of research that examines how disabilities arise through both social and biological processes. Many people in STEM fields are unaware of the findings of disability studies and fail to see these social dimensions, the authors said.

The dynamics of exclusion based on disability also intersect with other dynamics of exclusion, such as those based on sex/gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. Although each type of exclusion has elements in common, they also have their own unique dimensions, the authors acknowledge.

Wander points to the commonalities between experiences of exclusion to consider how best to mitigate them. Working from home, for example, not only benefits some people with disabilities, but also people from racial or minority ethnic groups, some of whom found that working remotely has reduced much of the prejudice they experienced in the workplace. However, not everyone finds remote work accessible as it comes down to decent internet access, among other things. In short, there is no single, simple solution that will increase the inclusion of any particular group.

Instead, the authors advocate an approach based on three pillars: flexibility, accommodation, and modification (FAM).

Providing more flexibility in the workplace will enhance the contribution of people with disabilities and others who face various limitations such as disability. B. the need to care for family members. When broad flexibility is not possible or sufficient, arrangements should be made to help employees perform the core functions of their role. Changing work responsibilities can also help STEMM preserve the insights and efforts of people whose disabilities sometimes or permanently limit their ability to work in positions not intended for them.

However, adopting FAM strategies requires changing longstanding practices and could entail some financial costs for institutions. However, the benefits for scientists, students and patients are likely to be significant, say the authors.

Ultimately, the FAM approach can benefit everyone. While someone may not be considered disabled today, injuries, illness and old age can change their circumstances in the future. The phenomenon of long COVID, the authors point out, reminds us that no one is more than one disease away from permanent 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 everyone has a seat,” Mattison said.

Co-authors alongside Mattison and Wander are Logan Gin of Brown University’s Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, Allistair Abraham of George Washington University’s Department of Pediatrics, Megan Moodie of the University of California – Santa Cruz’s Anthropology Department, and Feranmi Okanlami of the Program for University of Michigan Family Medicine, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

The paper “Community Voices: Broadening Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine Among People with Disabilities” was published in nature communication.

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

Provided by Binghamton University

Citation: Making Science More Accessible to People with Disabilities (4 December 2022), retrieved 4 December 2022 from

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