National panel examines access to STEM education for women and girls with disabilities

APA’s Women with Disabilities in STEM Education Research Agenda Development Project is creating an opportunity road map for women with disabilities in the STEM disciplines.

To explore the best path for women with disabilities to achieve stronger participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, APA’s Women’s Programs Office hosted a panel discussion on Oct. 16-17 at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the meeting included scientists and educators as well as representatives from the federal government and foundations.

Caroline Solomon, PhD, professor of biology at Gallaudet University, speaks at the workshop.“President Obama has made it a priority that the United States needs to produce more scientists and has set a goal of ‘America having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020,’” said Shari Miles-Cohen, PhD, senior director of APA’s Women’s Programs Office. “Meeting this goal demands that researchers address a key concern that has existed for more than 30 years about the lack of women in the STEM disciplines,” according to Miles-Cohen, also the principal investigator for APA’s Women with Disabilities in STEM Education Research Agenda Development Project (WWDSE).

Women with disabilities’ issues of resilience, social support and belonging, stereotype threat, implicit bias, creative problem solving, interactions with university personnel and methodology were among research questions the panel generated. These questions will provide a foundation for a research agenda that will be included in a final report to the National Science Foundation next spring.

Although more women with disabilities are entering postsecondary educational institutions and majoring in STEM disciplines than in previous years, the scarcity of women with disabilities in STEM education has become more significant. “As a scientist with a visual disability, I have made it my professional and personal priority to help us as a nation to better understand the facilitators and barriers to STEM education for young people, particularly young women with disabilities,” said WWDSE Organizing Committee Co-Chair M. Dolores Cimini, PhD. As a graduate student in psychology in the 1980’s, Cimini faced numerous technological and attitudinal barriers. In the ensuing decades, technological and societal changes that encourage women with disabilities to advance in the workforce have addressed some but not all of these barriers.

“Through the WWDSE project, we hope to address gaps in access and opportunity and inform the creation of a road map to opportunity for women with disabilities in the STEM disciplines,” Cimini said.