How STEM employers can be more inclusive to staff with disabilities

Not only is Jerusha an amazing Woman in Science, but she's a huge advocate for inclusivity in STEM fields.

The work of people in STEM impacts almost everything we do everyday – from scientific breakthroughs curing disease and interpreting the world around us, to engineers designing and building our homes, towns and infrastructure, and the technology we increasingly interact with and rely on.

And the wide world is diverse. In Australia, about 30% of residents were born overseas, about 18% of us have a disability and at least 3% of Australians identify as LGBTQI. However, the demographics of the STEM workforce often doesn’t come close to representing the colourful diversity of the real world. And this has real-life ramifications.

Diversity in STEM is about more than being fair, research has shown that diversity increases innovation – it’s better for all of us.

So, what can employers do to improve inclusivity in the workplace?

Focussing on disability inclusiveness, we spoke to Jerusha Mather, a PhD student in the medical sciences at Victoria University. Jerusha, who has cerebral palsy, is currently investigating non-invasive brain stimulation and strength training in adults with spastic hemiplegic cerebral palsy.

“The doctors in my birthplace (Sri Lanka) said I would never walk or talk,” says Jerusha.

“My family came to Australia when I was little. Coming here changed everything for me. I was granted access to therapies and this significantly improved my condition. I can walk and talk now. Beyond that, I have achieved many things. I have travelled the world. I have shared my story with many organisations.”

Jerusha is passionate about educating society on the importance of diversity and inclusion.

She shared with Careers with STEM her top tips for including people with disabilities in STEM organisations:

  1. Focus on their strengths. Give them an opportunity to prove their strengths. Believe in them. Believe in their goals. Be flexible. Keep an open mind.
  2. Make a support plan with them and check up on them regularly to see if it is working.
  3. Have a welcoming work culture that values diversity and inclusion. Write it in your mission statement.
  4. Have targeted employment programs/ pathways in science and research /medicine that encourage people with a disability to apply.
  5. Develop inclusive policies surrounding STEM education and employment.
  6. Develop funding programs specific for disability for a research assistant and accessible lab /medical equipment.

Jerusha is the content creator for @jerushamather and @canpremed3. “I use these mediums to communicate motivation, poetry, and sciences to a wide range of people,” she says.

Keen to help keep STEM inclusive? Meet two experts smashing stereotypes.

READ MORE: 7 STEM activities for students with developmental disabilities

STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.

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