Making STEMM Accessible for People with Disabilities

Author: Binghamton University
Published: 2022/12/03 - Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Contents: Summary - Definition - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: A research team is calling for ways to make work in STEMM more accessible for the disabled. The dynamics of exclusion based on disability also overlap with other exclusionary dynamics, such as those based on sex/gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Working from home, for example, benefits not only some people with disabilities but also people from minority racial or ethnic groups, some of whom found that remote work alleviated much of the bias they experienced in the workplace.

Introduction

Community voices: Broadening participation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine among persons with disabilities.

The pandemic prompted workplace changes that benefitted people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM). Still, there's fear that these accommodations will be rolled back. With International Day of Persons with Disabilities taking place on Dec. 3, a research team, including faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York, is calling for ways to make work in STEMM more accessible.

Main Digest

"We're increasingly hearing about how nice it is to 'all' be together again, as well as calls to put the pandemic behind us and increasingly strident demands for pre-pandemic 'normal,'" said Binghamton University Associate Professor of Anthropology Katherine Wander. "We are worried that 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 potential solutions. The paper draws on insights from disability studies, an interdisciplinary field of research that explores the ways that disabilities are created by social processes as well as biological ones. Many people within STEMM are unaware of disabilities studies' insights and can fail to see these social dimensions, the authors said.

Continued below image.
Colored illustration of Albert Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared).
Colored illustration of Albert Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared).
Continued...

The dynamics of exclusion based on disability also overlap with other exclusionary 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 unique dimensions, the authors acknowledge.

Wander points to the commonalities among experiences of exclusion to consider how they might best be mitigated. Working from home, for example, benefits not only some people with disabilities but also people from minority racial or ethnic groups, some of whom found that remote work alleviated much of the bias 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 inclusion for any one group.

Instead, the authors advocate an approach based on three pillars: 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 provide care for family members. When broad flexibility isn't possible or enough, accommodations should be available to help people achieve their role's core functions. Modification of work duties can also help STEMM retain the insights and efforts of people whose disabilities sometimes or persistently impede their ability to work in positions that are not designed for them.

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

Ultimately, the FAM approach can benefit everyone. While someone may not be considered disabled today, injuries, illness, and aging may change their circumstances in the future. The phenomenon of long COVID, the authors point out, reminds us that no one is more than one illness away from lasting disability.

"Inclusion is a proactive responsibility. If we're going to say that everyone deserves a seat at the table, then we have to make sure that places are set for everyone," Mattison said.

Co-authors, in addition to Mattison and Wander, including 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 Anthropology Department at the University of California - Santa Cruz, and Feranmi Okanlami of the University of Michigan's Family Medicine, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation program.

The paper, "Community voices: Broadening participation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine among persons with disabilities," was published in Nature Communications.

Attribution/Source(s):

This peer reviewed publication titled Making STEMM Accessible for People with Disabilities was selected for publishing by Disabled World's editors due to its relevance to the disability community. While the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or brevity, it was originally authored by Binghamton University and published 2022/12/03. For further details or clarifications, you can contact Binghamton University directly at binghamton.edu Disabled World does not provide any warranties or endorsements related to this article.

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