The Royal Society of Biology is a core member of the STEMM Disability Advisory Committee (STEM-DAC); a grouping of learned societies and academies with a commitment to improving policies, practices and provision for disabled people in STEMM disciplines. The Committee was established last year following a ‘Barriers to Disabled Students’ conference by the Institute of Physics that highlighted a number of common barriers across the sciences for disabled students entering the lab or field environment.
The Committee identifies any areas of joint working to improve provision for disabled students in the sciences; working in partnership to maximise limited resources and share expertise. Its area of interest spans the whole STEMM pipeline, including those aspiring to a STEMM career as well as those already employed in a STEMM role, and takes into consideration both physical and mental disabilities.
On 17th March 2016, STEMM-DAC held 'Future Directions in STEMM for People with Disabilities' conference at the Royal Society, which brought together employers, education support workers, service providers and others involved in the transition of disabled people within education, and between education and the world of work or apprenticeship. It aimed to increase understanding and awareness of good practice, advice and information to manage transitions and the progression of disabled people in STEMM.
STEMM-DAC has a number of practical projects underway; most recently working with The Scottish Sensory Centre to launch 116 new British Sign Language signs for physics and engineering terms. The glossary accompanies existing chemistry and biology signs developed by the team; a project that has been on-going since 2007. The signs were created to ensure students with hearing difficulties are not deterred from engaging in science, for which complex terms have previously acted as a barrier for some. You can find short video clips for the signs and their definitions on the Scottish Sensory Centre’s website.
Secondary school teacher Jon Hickman talks about how he uses the BSL biology glossaries to help hearing students understand and remember scientific terms on his blog.
On the 28th February 2013 the STEMM Disability Advisory Committee held a conference on ‘Supporting Disabled Students in STEM’ at the Royal Society. 'Supporting Disabled Students in STEM' brought together those working in academia to identify practical solutions to barriers faced by disabled students specifically studying for careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Its aim was to promote good practice for university departments to achieve inclusive environments for disabled students, as well as staff.
STEMM-DAC is also working on projects to support dyslexic students with maths, and to support disability assessors of STEMM students; ensuring assessors understand the unique requirements a STEM degree demands, and providing a forum to share knowledge and access advice.
The STEMM-DAC responded to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) call for evidence on the Targeted Support for Higher Education Students Review.
If you recognise any specific problems with disabled access to biology degrees, have ideas for potential STEMM-DAC projects or have expertise with disabled STEMM workers and students, please get in touch with Gabriele Butkute.
The Royal Society of Biology runs a JISCmail for disability assessors working within higher education bioscience departments, visit the website to sign up.
For resources and more information on the STEMM Disability Advisory Committee.
Read our blog on Science & The Paralympics.