Workshops - Enhancing Opportunities in Science and Technology Related Fields
People with Disabilities in the Sciences and Technologies: Interim Research Findings
Jessica Cowan-Dewar has an M.Sc from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and is currently working on a PhD at Queen's University in Kingston. Her research focus is gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Jessica has worked in a variety of community, outreach, advocacy, research and education roles. She has worked, on a consulting basis, for the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation, Queen's University, and the Queen's Institute of Population and Public Health. She joined NEADS in July as a consultant/researcher on the Science and Technology project.
The National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) recently initiated a two-year project, funded by the Imperial Oil Foundation, with the objective of examining the involvement of people with disabilities in the science and technology sectors. The project methodology, developed to identify issues and challenges faced by students and employees with disabilities in the science and technology sectors, included a literature review, an environmental scan and key informant interviews. The findings from each of these, in addition to informing the creation of a print and online resource guide entitled “Promoting Careers in Canada's Science and Technology Sectors to Students and Recent Graduates with Disabilities: Success Stories, Best Practices and Resources”, will be discussed in this presentation.
Jessica Cowan-Dewar, who is the Consultant working on the NEADS Science and Technology Project (“Promoting Careers in Canada’s Science and Technology Sectors to Students and Recent Graduates With Disabilities: Success Stories, Best Practices and Resources”), funded by the Imperial Oil Foundation, said she was pleased to be sharing knowledge gained on the involvement of people with disabilities in the science and technology field. She described the project, which includes a literature review, an environmental scan, and interviews with key informants.
Cowan-Dewar focused her literature review on mathematics, chemistry, physics, environmental sciences, geology, information technology, and engineering. Literature from life and biological sciences was excluded. She drew from relevant published key papers and articles obtained from education and science and technology databases. To identify unpublished literature, she used the search engines Google and Google Scholar. The American Chemical Society website was another valuable resource, she noted.
For the purposes of the environmental scan, concerned less with literature and more with statistics, Cowan-Dewar conducted Internet searches; contacted relevant organizations, corporations, and disability service providers; requested information via listservs; identified and contacted key stakeholders; and held face-to-face meetings with relevant actors.
Cowan-Dewar summarized the key findings and recurring themes that have emerged so far from her research as follows:
Concerning the interviews with key informants – which are currently underway -- Cowan-Dewar said she had interviewed students and graduates (employed and unemployed), disability service providers, teachers, professors, and employers. She was hoping to interview a total of 30 people from all provinces and territories of Canada before completing this last phase of the project.
Cowan-Dewar presented the key interim findings of the research. She said stigma, misperception, and ignorance of the capabilities of people with disabilities were identified as the main barriers. She recounted two extreme examples:
Another recurring theme was when and whether to disclose a disability during a job interview. Among the physical barriers, Cowan-Dewar mentioned inaccessible classrooms and workplaces, inaccessible industries, and, most especially, inaccessible science labs.
When key informants were asked what supports and services could improve representation of people with disabilities, they suggested creating liaisons between employers and employees; exploring the possibility of paid internships; increasing employment opportunities in science and technology; raising awareness through advertising and education campaigns; and having schools and industries actively recruit people with disabilities.
All interviewees stressed the value of formal and informal mentorship programs and recommended increasing the profile of role models in science and technology. Cowan-Dewar said the final purpose of her work is to develop and publish a guidebook titled Promoting Careers in Canada’s Science and Technology Sectors to Students and Recent Graduates with Disabilities: Success Stories, Best Practices and Resources.
The guidebook would be available in French and English, in CD and DVD format, online, in print, and in alternative formats. It would include lists of resources, links to websites, key stakeholders, a collection of best practices related to employment in the science and technology sectors, as well as a good number of success stories and personal experiences.
Cowan-Dewar concluded with two key messages. First, although it is frustrating that Canada is not further ahead in representing people with disabilities in the science and technology sectors, there are well-developed and effective programs to build upon. Second, she said she could never emphasize enough the value of well-developed internship programs and mentoring relationships.