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Four group leaders with disabilities share their thoughts on how to make laboratories and fieldwork more accessible and inclusive.
Between 15% and 25% of the world’s population lives with one or more forms of disability. Despite some progress on disability rights, for many disabled scientists academic-research spaces and career pathways remain out of reach, both literally and figuratively.
Many nations legally require institutions to make ‘reasonable accommodations’ to ensure accessibility, but disabled researchers think that a corresponding shift in the attitudes of many co-workers is needed.
They say that ableism — beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with disabilities (whether physical conditions, mental-health issues, chronic illnesses or cognitive differences) — has excluded them from classrooms, laboratories, fieldwork and conferences. Not only are disabled researchers under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, but both visible and invisible disabilities are often missing from discussions of diversity and inclusion, they say.
“If we designed physical spaces and classes in a way that suits the common denominator of humans — such as always having a ramp, always teaching in ways that are inclusive of neurodiversity — then we make the system work for everyone,” says Kelsey Byers, an evolutionary chemical ecologist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK.
At the same time, many disabled scientists point out that the COVID-19 pandemic has eased access, thanks to virtual conferences, remote working, and telehealth appointments — and they fervently hope these options will remain available after the pandemic.