#Ukraine: providing and receiving support

Diversity and disabilities – or why academia still have a long way to go to be truly inclusive

academia still have a long way to go to be truly inclusive

It's the 3rd of December, the first Sunday of Advent in 2023, and though not everyone is celebrating Christmas, across Europe December for many is a month where you look back through the year - and maybe also reflect a bit about your values and practices. In Eurodoc, we hope that whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this December brings a bit of holiday spirit and that you get the time to relax before the new year begins. 

In the spirit of reflecting on values and practices, Eurodoc will this year, on each of the Sundays in Advent, be posting an article on our webpage reflecting on the practices and values of academia.

Today, on the 3rd of December, it is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Frankly speaking, academia still has a long way to go to be inclusive, and that includes being inclusive of individuals with disabilities.

A study conducted in the US among doctorates within the STEM disciplines showed that those with disabilities earned less and were underrepresented among higher academic positions [1]. While some disabilities are incompatible with an academic career, many are not. And many individuals with disabilities do pursue an academic career successfully. However, having a disability is likely to slow the progression of your research down, especially if you have one where your body tires quicker. Eurodoc has raised awareness on how the "excellence rhetoric" implies an ability bias: the habit of overworking and the "publish or perish" culture harms every researcher, especially early career researchers. However, people with disabilities are harmed to the extent that most of them are pushed out of academia in general silence [2].

If we truly wish to make research careers equally accessible for those who possess the relevant skills, we must take the accessibility of research careers for those with disabilities into account also through reforms of the research assessment system. Not doing so means that the research conducted loses diversity. 

Many universities were built in a time before wheelchairs and were not adjusted such that they are accessible for wheelchair users. However, this does not explain why laboratories and conference venues in some cases remain inaccessible when building new university buildings or adapting old ones. It is an example of (hidden) bias, that it cannot be fathomed that students and researchers relying on the use of wheelchairs may need access to those facilities. We encourage you to read the article “BEING A DISABLED PHD STUDENT IS LIKE BEING ON THE DANCE FLOOR WITH A WHEELCHAIR” where three early career researchers describe how their disabilities affect them, while also outlining a few (easy) things that could be implemented to mitigate inaccessibility [3].

We owe it to our colleagues with disabilities, we owe it to our students with disabilities and we owe it to the rest of society to do better than this. 

P.S.: if you are an early career researcher with a disability and wish to share your story, you are welcome to contact us at Eurodoc through our Equal Opportunity Officer Sara Pilia at sara.pilia@eurodoc.net.

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-023-01745-z (Nature, 2023)
[2] Overworking, Impostor Syndrome, and Ableism: A Reflection on "Normality" in Academia (Eurodoc, 2020)

List of authors