We believe that STEM is for everyone, but we need to acknowledge there are barriers for people with disabilities who want to pursue studies and careers in this space.
Even though we know that diversity in STEM is beneficial, and that employers that hire people with disabilities see an average 28% higher revenue than their competitors and 90% lower staff turnover (according to atWork Australia Disability Employment Services), there is so much work to be done when it comes to inclusivity in STEM education and in STEM workplaces.
To scratch the surface, this includes making STEM course content, educational facilities and workplaces accessible to all through universal design, as well as dismantling stereotypes around who works in STEM.
It’s also crucial that we really listen to people with disabilities and harness their lived experience to create better experiences and outcomes in education and the workplace.
To highlight this issue and to get you thinking about ways you can help make STEM more accessible, we’ve written a bunch of helpful education and career resources on STEM inclusivity. We’ve also included the stories of three STEM pros with disabilities who have shared their challenges and achievements with us.
STEM inclusivity resources
Incorporating STEM education for kids with disabilities doesn’t have to be difficult. If you’re an educator interested in creating fun and interesting STEM activities for younger children with developmental disabilities, try these seven easy and fun activities in your classroom. They’re designed to be accessible, interesting and rewarding for students of many different ability levels, and they help lay the foundations of logical and creative thinking that lead to a world of discovery.
STEM jobs and IT roles in particular are booming, and these industries have the opportunity to build or extend solid workforces on a foundation of diversity that includes neurodiverse people, says Penny Evans, National Diversity Employer Manager, atWork Australia. She also believes that neurodiverse employees can become a key part of any diverse team, increasing its ability to think from different perspectives to challenge problems from different angles and find unique solutions.
To find out more about disability inclusiveness, we spoke to Jerusha Mather, who has a PhD in medical and biological sciences. Jerusha, who has cerebral palsy, is passionate about educating society on the importance of diversity and inclusion, and has shared her top tips for including people with disabilities in STEM organisations.
People with disabilities can make a big impact in STEM thanks to initiatives like atWork Australia’s School2atWork program. Find out more about it here.
There are plenty of challenges in teaching STEM to special needs students, but the rewards go beyond the classroom – careers in digital technologies offer plenty of opportunities for people with different abilities. Special needs education specialist Rory Critchley from Joondalup in Western Australia gives his tips for successfully engaging students with STEM.
Universal design incorporates all users from the beginning of the design process, and gives everyone the same access. Read all about its benefits here.
Angel has previously been involved in the development of apps and is now the advocacy manager and ambassador for Starting With Julius, which promotes the better and greater representation of people with disability in media and communications in Australia.
She shares her journey with us here.
Huy, who is the CEO and founder of Enabler Interactive, strongly believes engineering equips you with the skills to make the world a better, more inclusive and accessible place.
He hopes more young people take up the challenge to use engineering for social impact and that there are great career opportunities for those who do.
Read more about his research into the social challenges faced by people with disabilities through an engineering lens, plus his STEM study and career path, here.
Jerusha has kickstarted a petition to make food packaging more accessible for the whopping 44% of us who have trouble with the current packaging system.
“I started a petition for accessible packaging because as I was learning how to cook, I noticed that opening packaging was something challenging and arduous for me. I have cerebral palsy – a condition that makes tasks that involve strength and fine motor skills difficult to complete.
Read more her full story here.