People with disabilities are drastically underrepresented in science, both as researchers and study participants. For example, over 25% of Americans are disabled but only 3% of the STEMM workforce reports having a disability. This needs to change, says Bonnielin Swenor, founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center, in a Q&A published by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Swenor, who has a visual disability and who advocates for researchers with disabilities, headed a subgroup for the NIH that resulted in nine recommendations for ways to increase equity, access, and inclusion across disability communities.
Swenor discussed the many ways that academic processes, such as article submission and grant funding portals, create barriers for the disabled such as the visually impaired. She also noted that, too often, the language we use, such as that found in the NIH mission statement, focuses on “reducing disability,” which is not disability-inclusive and serves to devalue those who are disabled. Instead, her report exhorts the NIH and other research institutions to engage with diverse disability communities, counter structural discrimination, and promote awareness and inclusion.
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