Creating Opportunities For People With Disabilities In STEM Careers
Professionals with disabilities often face considerable difficulties in the workforce, specifically in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In my view as the founder of a firm that helps companies strategically include people with disabilities, some of the reasons for this are a lack of confidence on the part of technology companies […]
Professionals with disabilities often face considerable difficulties in the workforce, specifically in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In my view as the founder of a firm that helps companies strategically include people with disabilities, some of the reasons for this are a lack of confidence on the part of technology companies in embracing people with disabilities, in addition to a lack of awareness and belief in the ability of these people in the domain of STEM.
I think this indicates a need to encourage and support students with disabilities to enter and complete post-secondary education in STEM to compete in this growing job market. Job opportunities in STEM fields should be open to everyone, including people with disabilities, as they can also secure and succeed in those positions.
Many of us are aware that the technology industry is growing and coming up with newer and better methods for people with disabilities to choose their careers independently. For example, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an appropriate framework to implement STEM education for students with disabilities.
Even with these improvements, significant attitudinal barriers still exist in some cases around people with disabilities wanting to enter science and technology fields. Some employers recognize the unique skills and experiences employees with disabilities bring to their companies. However, career opportunities can be very limited in some professions. But today's STEM profession can help increase people with disabilities' confidence in their intellectual abilities, and working for improvements can help dispel prejudice in the workplace.
I want to welcome this entire population of lifelong problem solvers into the STEM workforce. People with disabilities can be an asset to the flourishing of technology sciences.
Challenges For STEM To Overcome To Achieve Full Inclusion
People with disabilities often face challenges in their pursuit of STEM careers, but as Scott Bellman and Sheryl Burgstahler note, "Opportunities do exist for those prepared to meet the challenges that they encounter. They acquire academic, technical and self-determination skills and find ways to overcome barriers."These challenges come for many different reasons:
• There is often a lack of access to technologies, assistive technologies and ICT accessibility. These technologies allow people with disabilities to perform essential job functions. Unfortunately, I've observed that some STEM education companies don't prioritize accessibility.
• There can also be a lack of opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in the STEM workforce fully. Human resource managers may not always know what is possible in a STEM employment opportunity for people with disabilities.
• Employers sometimes hold misperceptions that people with disabilities are unsuitable for working in these fields, and employers may continue this misperception during the hiring process.
Therefore, I suggest improved communication and partnership between employers and individuals with disabilities who want to enter these fields. I think promoting awareness of job opportunities and accessibility through technology can help encourage STEM education for people with disabilities. STEM education gives individuals the skills to become more employable and prepares them to meet the current growing demand for labor.
For example, neurodiverse people may have strong logical thinking abilities with outstanding technical skills, which can be useful in technology fields. They have talents, perspectives and skills that can be distinctly beneficial in many work environments such as STEM. I believe the technology industry can benefit if the abilities of these individuals are correctly utilized.
What do we need?
We need to share strategies and best practices for fully including people and students who have disabilities in STEM academic programs and careers. Some of these strategies include establishing an educational system to better develop students with disabilities' performance in STEM disciplines. I also suggest taking an instructional approach for building a well-integrated knowledge base that will benefit students’ STEM careers.
We must focus on the importance of a supportive community. Students with disabilities in STEM fields can change the world. Employers need to educate and create peer mentors who can help people with disabilities in these careers.
Tech companies should work on establishing STEM labs and accessible lab incubators for students with disabilities. Technology can give people with disabilities confidence that they can use their skills in a more formal setting. Companies should work on developing and adapting STEM resources for people with disabilities, including online courses and virtual science experiments, coding programs and opportunities to build and program computerized robots. I think this will encourage other technology companies and business leaders to get started with developing STEM technologies.
Several major IT companies recognize people with disabilities as highly motivated and successful employees. Although much progress still needs to be made, I think the future is brighter than ever for people with disabilities in the STEM fields.
Article written by: Orville Lynch, Jr.
Mr. Lynch, a member of the legendary two-time Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame Award winning Lynch Family.
Mr. Lynch is a nationally recognized urban media executive with over 20+ years of diversity recruitment and serial entrepreneur with numerous multi-million dollar exits.