How can STEM academic departments be more accessible to and inclusive of women faculty with disabilities?

Date Updated
05/23/22

As institutions seek to leverage the benefits of diversity, application pools for faculty positions have become increasingly diverse, inclusive of faculty with disabilities who bring unique and valuable perspectives and talents to the workplace. However, the inaccessible design of the employment application process, as well as many campus facilities, software tools, services, and online resources, continue to erect barriers to some applicants and employees with disabilities, including those who are also members of other marginalized groups. Keep in mind that many individuals with disabilities who are applicants or employees with disabilities do not disclose their disabilities to an institution.

Matters unique to faculty positions and academic workplaces call for approaches that incorporate disability perspectives. Examples include identifying the essential functions of faculty positions (which vary depending on the academic field and/or unit); developing equitable promotion, tenure, and evaluation policy and practices; and providing early career mentoring opportunities. Additionally, faculty members with disabilities face the same stereotypes and accessibility concerns that affect all people with disabilities; to make greater changes towards creating a more inclusive and accessible institution, campus-wide equity efforts need to include disability perspectives. 

The AccessADVANCE project, led by the University of Washington and North Dakota State University, is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote systemic changes that will increase the successful participation and advancement of women with disabilities in STEM faculty careers. Project staff, along with collaborators, created the checklist Equal Access: Making STEM Departments More Accessible to and Inclusive of Women with Disabilities to provide guidance to campus leaders. Below we feature the subheadings, descriptions, and a main example question featured in the checklist. For a more-indepth review and list of questions for each section, view the full checklist online or download a copy to print and address at your own pace.

Recruitment

Recruit to attract a diverse applicant pool, including people with disabilities, and employ accessible technology and recruitment practices.

Do you share how to request disability-related accommodations in correspondence about available positions, the application process, and scheduling job interviews? 

Policies and Evaluation

Ensure that diversity, including disability, considerations are addressed in all policies and evaluations regarding your offerings.

Do policies and procedures require that accessibility be considered in design, development, and procurement processes (e.g., regarding facilities, IT, and services)?

Department/Campus Culture

Consider disability perspectives as you plan and evaluate your facilities and offerings. 

Do campus or departmental diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives address matters relevant to faculty members with disabilities?

Physical Environments

Ensure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is welcoming to visitors with a variety of abilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages.

Are all levels of departmental facilities connected via wheelchair-accessible routes of travel? Are accessible routes of travel easy to find? Do all commonly used exterior and restroom doors have sensors or buttons for automatic opening? Are they regularly inspected to ensure functionality? 

Support Services

Make sure support staff are prepared to work with all faculty, including those with disabilities.

Do staff members know how to respond to requests for disability-related accommodations such as sign language interpreters?

Information Resources and IT

Ensure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group and that information is accessible to everyone. Make sure accessible technology is available to faculty with disabilities. 

Do departmental and campus web pages adhere to accessibility guidelines or standards adopted by your institution or your department? For information about designing accessible websites, consult W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Accommodations

Put systems in place to ensure reasonable accommodations are available to faculty.

Does a simple, transparent procedure to ensure a timely response to requests for disability-related accommodations exist and are faculty made aware of these services (e.g., in a faculty manual, in faculty and staff orientations, and other meetings?)

For the complete list of suggestions, consult Equal Access: Making STEM Departments More Accessible to and Inclusive of Women with Disabilities