Disability Inclusive Science Careers

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University


It is vital for the UK's economy and position as a global leader of scientific discovery that talented researchers are recruited and retained within our research communities. Despite legal frameworks and initiatives by universities and other employers, disabled researchers, and those with chronic health problems, are leaving scientific careers before entering permanent academic positions. Barriers to disability inclusive careers include, for example:
- the built environment,
- inaccessible laboratories and lectures halls,
- social barriers including shared office spaces or networking and
- managerial, (e.g. limited understanding of disability organisational policies and frameworks).
It is vital that these barriers are overcome in order to ensure scientific careers are open to all talented scientists. For this reason, this research focuses on early career entry to scientific careers, specifically postdoctoral researchers. The aim of this project is to improve the recruitment, retention & progression of postdoctoral disabled scientists through the co-design of a suite of web based tools and gaming technologies (Disability Inclusive Science Careers - DISC).

Disability Inclusive Science Careers (DISC) is a suite of web based and immersive virtual reality gaming tools designed to support industry employers, universities, research funders, trade unions and other key stakeholders to create disability inclusive scientific careers. The project is led by a team of researchers and career development specialists in two universities, disability advocacy organisations and a global engineering company. Disabled researchers, managers, employers and other key stakeholders will co-design DISC alongside academics with expertise in diversity and organisational change.

The programme of work consists of five work packages:
Work Package 1: will map existing policies and best practice in universities and employers and interviewing key stakeholders to co-design a web-based tool and the immersive virtual reality games.
Work Package 2: will develop, implement and refine, the web based tool developed using interviews with disabled academics and key stakeholders, and refined based on feedback with end-users. DISC will include animations and videos of first person narratives of science careers and disability. Online training will expose participants to disability legislation, accessibility policies and practices, best practice from organisations, reasonable adjustments guidance and self-care support for disabled researchers.
Work Package 3: partners with a software development company to develop immersive virtual reality games for line managers and research leaders to immerse participants in the lived experiences of disabled researchers. Work package 3 will also develop and deliver train-the-trainer sessions with managers and research leaders on disability inclusion. This training can then be rolled out into participants' organisations.
Work Package 4: will co-design, deliver and implement training for disabled PhD students and postdoctoral researchers on their on their rights and responsibilities and how to ask for reasonable adjustments.
Work Package 5: embeds DISC into the organisational practices and policies in participating organisations, and disseminated to all universities in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, via a disability inclusion summer school in 2020.

To assess the efficacy of DISC participants will complete awareness questionnaires before and after work packages 3, 4 and 5 and will be followed up over a 3 year period following the end of the funding.

Planned Impact

Impact will be created through sustainable cultural change within science employers (incl HEIs), Funding Councils and other relevant key stakeholders to support disabled researchers.

Impact goals of the project are:
- To create cultural change to improve the working lives of disabled scientists and the recruitment and retention at entry to the sector (PhD -> Postdoctoral researcher/Postdoctoral researcher -> Lecturer).
- To support employers, research funders, 3rd sector disability representative groups and other stakeholders in the recruitment and retention of highly skilled disabled scientists

The beneficiaries of the project include:
* Disabled scientists (improving working lives, access to science careers)
* Universities (recruiting and retaining disabled scientists)
* Research funders (developing inclusive disability policy - currently diversity policies largely limited to gender)
* Professional associations (providing tailored policies for disabled members)
* Trade unions (providing tailored guidance for disabled members)
* 3rd sector organisations e.g. National Disabled Association of Disabled Staff Networks (engagement in shaping the research process and outputs)
* Society - the inclusion of disabled and chronically ill scientists will help to ensure that broader engineering and physical sciences research meets the needs of a diverse social community.

Route to Impact: Impact is embedded through each work package. DISC adopts a 'grassroots' up approach through its co-design with experts in disability and chronic ill health, namely, those who experience it and work to develop policies and practices to support scientific careers within higher education. DISC is therefore co-designed by the research team and the research end uers. The approach to impact therefore directly engages research end users in the creation of DISC. The applicants have prior experience of effecting impact and organisational change through participatory research frameworks. The use of narratives is an established technique for increasing organisational buy-in for diversity initiatives including disability. The use of immersive virtual reality (iVR) will engage stakeholders in an innovative way. While iVR has been used to support disabled children, this ambitious project will use iVR to help line managers and other key stakeholders understand the challenges faced by disabled people. The pilot research for DISC has attracted considerable interest from national and international press and HEIs, providing a foundation for DISC's impact agenda. Impact will be assessed over a three year period following the end of the EPSRC funding.

Economic and Societal Impacts: Changing organisational culture and practices
DISC is co-designed to facilitate cultural change within organisations, including HEIs to promote disability inclusion in science careers.
The key aim of this project is to improve the quality of working lives (and by extension non-working lives) of disabled early career scientists, achieved through the co-development and dissemination of science specific strategies for inclusion and self-care/help strategies for science researchers.
Engaging with policy makers to facilitate policy level changes in the support of disabled and chronically ill science researchers; for example, working with research councils to identify and implement changes to the provision of research funding. Achieved through disability inclusion summer school and train-the-trainer sessions.

Academic Impacts: Enhancing the knowledge economy
The long term aim is to improve retention of scientific researchers, especially those who are disabled or chronically ill by effecting cultural change in institutions including disability inclusive policies and practices.
Increasing stakeholder understanding of disability and scientific careers including the role disability may have in shaping the directions and outcomes of scientific research.
Description Accessible Laboratories: Understanding The Needs Of Disabled Chemists Including Those With Hidden Impairments And Long Term Conditions
Amount £4,258 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Society of Chemistry 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2021 
End 05/2022
Description Leaky Bodies at Work
Amount £4,000 (GBP)
Organisation Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2021 
End 05/2022
Description Making Environmental Science Equal, Diverse And Inclusive
Amount £87,673 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2021 
End 05/2022
Description Contribution to article: "Textbook case" of disability discrimination in grant applications 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Interview for piece in Nature Index on disability discrimination
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/textbook-case-of-disability-discrimination-in-research-grant-a...
Description Coronavirus: why disabled workers may hold some of the answers to post-pandemic working 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Piece led by Dr Jen Remnant on the potential for COVID to transform disability inclusion at work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/coronavirus-why-disabled-workers-may-hold-some-of-the-answers-to-p...