Panel Discussion Summary: Experiences of People with Disabilities in STEM Fields

Panelists: Nils Hakansson (Wichita State University), Raja Kushalnagar (Gallaudet University), Marta Larson (Michigan After-School Partnership), and Vinod Namboodiri (Wichita State University)

Moderator: Brianna Blaser, UW

A group of conference attendants participate in the panel discussion.

As an educator and person with a disability, what do you wish educational researchers knew about people with disabilities or their experiences?

  • Coming from a smaller school, people can often say they don’t have the resources available for accessibility. Cost and time allocation comes up much more often. I wish educators or organizations could support this issue and provide resources for providing accommodations. Organizations often see people with disabilities as an expensive cost allocation.
  • All institutions should include people with disabilities on their advisory board. People with disabilities are highly varied. Even two people with the same disability may need different accommodations. If there are more voices of people with disabilities, your organization or institution will be more universally designed.
  • Accommodations should be kept as streamlined as possible. I don’t want to be identified as different, and I don’t want to have to search around to find accessibility.
  • Faculty can often see accommodations and accessibility as controlling what they can do and how they teach. However, faculty should see accessibility as a partnership that allows all people to be educated. Instead of punitive practices, there should be encouragement and understanding of inclusion.
  • People have often labeled me a specific way and provided accommodations only within that label. People with disabilities need to be included in the accommodation discussion instead of exterior to it.
  • If departments have to provide funding for accommodations, that can be difficult. If funding comes from a central budget of the university, it would be a lot easier for technology to be purchased and accommodations provided.

What things would you want as faculty that you used to have as a student?

  • Students are often provided with resources and accommodations, whereas staff and faculty often have to go through other venues or don’t have the same options. Sometimes staff and faculty aren’t sure how to get accommodations.
  • Staff and faculty usually go through HR for accommodations, which can work at a different speed than student offices. Faculty and staff often come after students in the case of access. Even more so, staff and faculty accommodations are not covered by the same budgets that students’ accommodations are covered.
  • Since I am not in a single institution, I have to be my own support group. I have to provide my own accommodations. I often feel like I don’t have a system and when I go to new locations, I have to have the same battles and same issues repeatedly and fight for my own accommodations. There should be more knowledge and shared resources to all institutions and venues.

What would you want your colleagues and peers to know about how best to support you as a person with a disability?

  • I ask students to ask me questions and feel comfortable talking about my disability, as well as the fact that I may be asking for help in relation to my disability. I am proactive about open communication.
  • Find a way to interact with me that isn’t about my disability. For example, people need to learn how to walk slower, speak up, listen better, and find ways to interact with others that helps the person with a disability feel included.