The Second Job: An Introduction on Why STEM Is Losing Its Disabled Scientists.

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Image description: White disabled person icon on blue background, with person leaning forward. Gold science beaker as wheelchair wheel.

For our June Diversity JC discussion, we focused on #DisabledandSTEM, looking at research from Dr. Kate Sang on the experience of disabled scientists in the UK, and Working Life piece on her experience in the US by Jesse Shanahan. We were also thrilled to have both Kate (@katesang) and Jesse (@Enceladosaurus) join us for the discussion.

First, we discussed some semantics, which are important:

 

It is also important to remember that “disabled” pertains to a very large and diverse group:

 

And yet it is clear STEM fields are losing disabled scientists:

 

Our conversation quickly noted why this is, and the range of challenges disabled scientists in STEM face (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and their impact:

 

Barriers included physical access to not only areas for research…

… but also for support:

 

There is also the real financial cost that comes with having a disability – and let’s consider that on a graduate student budget.

 

The barriers and challenges go far beyond physical access and financial cost, as well.

 

…and this does not even get into the way in which disabled people are treated by health care professionals when they seek support and care:

 

One of the most important and poignant points in our discussion was how these challenges and barriers, in ways unlike any other experience, can force disabled scientists to make heartbreaking decisions between their science – and their health and lives.

For many, if not most, of us, science is where our heart and soul is – it is what we love to do. The idea of being forced to abandon our science is a hard one to even fathom – but it is a reality for many of our disabled peers, especially if they are without resources and support, at the institution, state, and federal level.

The importance of that support was also touched on in a recent New York Times op-ed on by Alice Wong (@SFdirewolf) , where the loss of support forced a major change in her career path. How may bright, creative, and curious minds are we losing before they even get started in STEM?

To avoid losing talented disabled scientists, there are tangible steps institutions can take to be more supportive and welcoming for disabled scientists, ensuring they can flourish in their fields.

 

Certainly, some institutions already have policies in place to support disabled scientists, but it is important to note that simply having policies on the books is not enough.

In addition, what resources, protections, and support are available may not be visible:

They may also require scientists to disclose their disabilities, which inofitself is a major challenge…

The stigma around disability means many people do choose to hide their disability if and when they can. This can limit visibility and access to support – but given how we treat disability in STEM, it’s up to institutions and the able-bodied community to ensure spaces are safe and resources are accessible. It’s on us to make change.

To these ends, there are many things able-bodied scientists can do:

Part of this is taking the time for serious self-reflection

… and it’s critical to remember we have a lot to learn, and we will need training…

 

But – what also stood out from our discussion was how much making science more accessible can help scientists and science:

 

This was our first conversation that focused on disability, and we hope to focus on additional and more specific aspects of disability and STEM in the future. Please let us know topics and research of particular interest to you!

Also make sure to check out conversations happening under #DisabledandSTEM, and follow scientists tweeting there…

[These convos happen Fridays at 8pm EST, tagged under #EnceladosaurusQA!]

… and mare sure your twitter is accessible!

 

Thank you to everyone who joined and followed our #DisabledandSTEM discussion, and special thank you to Kate Sang and Jesse Shanahan! We look forward to more in the future!

Emily (@dremilysklein)
Dr. PMS (@doctor_PMS)
Ian Street (@IHStreet)

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June Discussion: Disability and STEM.

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Image description: Atom icon with disable person icon at center. Icons are white on blue background.

A theme which all participants referred to was fatigue. For many academics, our work is tiring anyway. But in addition, disabled academics have to negotiate not only the effects of their “impairment,” but also institutional structures for securing the adjustments they need to be able to do their work. Many respondents said that being disabled was like having a second job.

~ Kate Sang in her Science interview

If you’re on this blog, you likely care about (or are curious about) diversity and inclusion in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. Here and on our twitter chats, we’ve talked about a range of topics related to diversity and inclusion within the STEM disciplines. There is one we haven’t touched on much, aside from our discussions on the mental toll of science careers:

Disability.

We don’t talk about it enough in STEM, even in discussions of diversity and inclusion, despite the clear implications for people’s lives. For our June Diversity Journal Club, we want to focus on disability and STEM, discussing Kate Sang (@katesang)’s survey of researchers in the UK (also check out her interview with Science on the survey), as well as a Science Working Life piece by Jesse Shanahan (@Enceladosaurus). Collectively, these two pieces provide both research into the experience of scientists with disabilities, as well as a first-hand account. We also encourage you to check out Jesse’s #DisabledandSTEM on twitter, and especially follow other scientists sharing there.

We are also very excited that both Dr. Sang and Jesse will be joining us for the discussion! In addition to questions on the research and their experiences, etc, we will also focus on a few key points:

  1. Do we consider disability to a large enough degree when we talk about diversity and inclusion in science?
  2. What is your experience as a scientist with a disability/how does your able-bodied privilege mean your experience is different from other scientists?
  3. What does your institution or organization do to ensure they are inclusive to disabled scientists, students, and staff? What could they do better?
  4. What can able-bodied individuals do?

We do know that the stigma around disability can mean people are uncomfortable being open about their status. If you would like to ask a question or to comment anonymously, please feel free to direct message any of us (Emily @DrEmilySKlein, Ian @IHStreet, Dr. PMS @Doctor_PMS) or the DiversityJC twitter and we will post it for you.

A final note that we are trying to ensure the Diversity Journal Club website is accessible. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to improve!

Hope you can join us at 2pm Eastern time on Friday, 23 June!

Emily, Ian, and the Good Dr.