Science diversified: Tackling an ‘ableist’ culture in research

Two researchers with disabilities describe an ‘able’ culture at the academia, a system designed for fully fit and healthy people who account very little for those living outside those criteria. This culture can protect scientists from disabilities, chronic diseases, neurological or mental health problems. As a result many people choose not to disclose their terms for fear of being stigmatized.

The episode is part of Science Diversified, a seven-part podcast series exploring how having a more diverse range of researchers ultimately benefits not only the scientific enterprise, but also the wider world.

Hello, I am David Payne, editor of Nature at Nature. And this is Working Scientist, a Nature Career podcast. In this seven-part series, Science is Diversity, we’re exploring how scientific ventures really benefit when you have a team of researchers from a broad range of backgrounds, disciplines, and skills. In this final episode, we focus on disability and science.

We meet the first-hand experience of two scientists in what they describe as an enabling culture in academia, a system designed solely for fit and healthy people, but for those living outside those parameters For very little. What can be done about it?

Nahera Sahtau: 00:44

So this is something I was born with. I am born with a visual impairment, and have not been specifically diagnosed for what it is. There have been tests, where it may be indicated. And I don’t remember, like, whether it’s the macula or the cornea or whatever, but it’s something that reduces my vision significantly, so I can be considered legally blind in Canada.

There is no surgery that I can do to correct this. There is no medicine, no solution. This time.

My name is Nahera. Last Name Sahutaut. And I am currently working as a science analyst with the Food Inspection Agency of Canada. I currently live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Working on a computer is something that I have also adapted. I look closer at the screen. Very much like, right in front of the screen, you will find my face. If I need to enlarge the lesson, I know how to do it. I get tired of being on screen for a long time. But I think everyone now also has vision because of computers.

In terms of work that I’ve done in the lab, I’m usually good at doing most of the stuff, I just watch things very closely. If I am working with piping or something like that then I am very close.

So it is very difficult for me to work in biosphere cabinets, because most of the time your face is covered by the door and your hands are there. And you can’t really keep things close to you. Using a microscope is difficult, especially with the kind of work that I was doing during my PhD.

Seeing very small things, and then, trying to pick them up, was not something I could do. And so I had a friend who helped me. And a friend, a colleague. And my supervisor was fine with someone else who was part of the work for me.

Like, in terms of classes, when we were in lectures and stuff, there was no way I could see the board. This was just something I could not see.

And it was fine for me because I’ve developed good hearing, I think you know, your body compensates you by giving you something else and my hearing is quite good. So I was able to capture most of the stuff through hearing.

But most of the time, your classes are from a textbook. So it was not too bad to study only on my own and do that stuff on my own.

Learned to present very well. Because I can’t see the computer screen I’m looking at. Most of my productions are very visual. And it just helps to tell me what I want to say.

Nicole Brown 04:05

Hello, my name is Nicole Brown. I am a lecturer in education at UCL Institute of Education. And I am the editor of two books, Competencies in Pedagogy.

And the second book is, Lively Experience of Competence in Education. And it is specifically focusing on strategies for inclusion. So I first became interested in how universities treat people with disabilities and chronic diseases as part of my doctoral research.

The focus of my doctoral research was the experience of educational identification under the influence of fibromyalgia. And I came to that subject because I myself have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a highly competitive condition. It is an invisible condition, but associated with it, right-spread persistent pain, cognitive dysfunction, sleep disorders, psychological disorders. And as it happens, meanwhile, that diagnosis was revised. And it is no longer really applicable.

Leave a Comment