Future directions in STEMM for people with disabilities

17 March 2016, Royal Society London

Report on the meeting by Artemis Stamboulis, School of Metallurgy and Materials

On the 17th of March, I attended an interesting meeting at the Royal Society in London about “Future directions in STEMM for people with disabilities”.

Nearly 6 million working-age adults -around 15% of the potential workforce- in the UK identify as having a longstanding illness, disability or infirmity. This includes specific learning difficulties, physical impairments and mental health problems. It is vital therefore for the nation’s economic and social wellbeing that they are equipped to progress and excel.

The Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) Disability Advisory Committee (STEMM-DAC) was founded at the STEMM Disability Committee (STEMM-DC). Its members recognise the value of speaking with a clear authoritative voice on the inclusion of disabled people in STEMM education and employment. STEMM DAC aims to increase understanding of how to ensure people with disabilities are fully supported in their transitions and to investigate the role that learned societies and professional bodies can play in complementing pathways to progression.

Future directions in STEMM for people and disabilities aimed to bring together people with disabilities and those working with them; employers, career advisors and many others involved in supporting their transition within STEMM education, and into the world of work or apprenticeships.

The programme included a panel Q&A session and discussion groups with the aim of giving delegates insight into best practice and concluded with a networking session, where delegates were given an opportunity to make contacts and develop their work in this area. Below you can find more details about the workshops and the keynote people involved in all discussions.


10.00 Arrival, registration and refreshments

10.30 Welcome address

Martin Hollins: Chair of the STEMM Disability Advisory Committee. Martin is an independent education consultant with interest in the teaching of Science at primary level and to learners with special educational needs and disabilities. He is the director of a charity “Books Beyond Words” and he currently teaches at a home school three groups of learners from 3 to 13 years of age.

10.35 Introductory speaker

Philip Connolly: Policy Development Manager, Disability Rights UK. He is responsible for the charity’s research and campaigns as well as his parliamentary activities in support of the All Party Parliamentary Group on disability. He has initiated the campaign “I can make it” and is managing the mobile digital fabrication laboratory in the city of Salford.

10.45 Panel introductions

Rachel Bashabe: Business management graduate and assistant accountant in Babcock International Group. Rachel likes travelling and as a person with long term medical health conditions she feels that she constantly challenges herself to achieve the best as anyone whilst working around her disabilities.

Loraine Martins: Director of Diversity and inclusion at Network Rail and she leads a centre of expertise to support a more open, diverse and inclusive Network Rail.

Margaret Meehan: Manager of specialist tuition for academic success at Swansea University. She works with students experiencing autistic spectrum conditions, mental health issues and medical conditions across all disciplines.

Duncan Shrewsbury: Academic GP trainee, Family medicine. Duncan has also a teaching and learning support background. He is now completing a PhD investigating the impact of dyslexia on trainee doctors.

Alison Stokes: Lecturer in Earth and Environmental Science Education at Plymouth University. She is currently undertaking research into accessible fieldwork for students with disabilities in association with the International Association for Geoscience Diversity.

11.15 Workshop 1 – What information/resources do we have already? What information/recourses are needed? Who could provide the information?

This workshop involved all delegates who had to work on questions about six main themes:

  1. Accessing support
    1. How do disabled students/employees know what support is available to them?
    2. Is there any STEMM support available and how do we make them aware of it?
    3. How can we ensure they receive all the support they need?
  2. Further research
    1. How can we encourage more disabled students to continue to study in STEMM education into postgraduate taught/research degrees?
    2. How do we encourage more disabled people to develop research skills?
  3. Recruitment
    1. How can we ensure our recruitment practices (or admissions) are fully inclusive?
    2. How do we encourage disclosure?
    3. Where are the major barriers in recruitment and how can we address them?
    4. Is there anything additional needed for STEMM jobs/courses that isn’t currently provided?
  4. Technical Skills
    1. How can we ensure people with disabilities develop the technical skills needed whilst at school/university/the work place?
    2. Is there anything additional needed for STEMM jobs/courses that isn’t currently provided?
  5. Induction
    1. How can we ensure induction (university/employment) is appropriate for the needs of people with disabilities and is fully inclusive?
    2. What additional support might we need to provide?
    3. Who receives disability awareness training?
  6. Outreach/engagement
    1. How can we ensure our outreach/ aspiration-raising/ CSR activities are fully inclusive?
    2. How can we encourage more disabled people to take part in them?
    3. Is there anything additional needed for STEMM jobs/courses that isn’t currently provided?

12.00 Refreshment break

12.15 Report back 1

At the end of the exercise we all shared opinions from the different discussion tables. Some main issues that came across included:

  1. Awareness of disability. Often we do not know what disability is because the majority we do not experience it. Raising awareness would reinforce compassion and understanding.
  2. Government has the responsibility to continue support disabled people and encourage them to study at Universities. The recent budget cuts will not help current situation.
  3. Use of modern technology to facilitate learning for disabled people. Making these tools available requires financial support for schools, universities, companies.
  4. Facilitate disclosure at work or place of study will help to design accessibility as well as learning for disabled or less able people easier.

13.00 Networking lunch

14.00 Workshop 2 – Which of these groups will be able to provide missing resources:

  • STEMM Disability Advisory Committee
    • Learned Societies
    • Universities
    • Schools
    • Business
    • Government

14.45 Refreshment break

15.00 Report back 2

The role of STEMM-DAC was considered invaluable in connecting organisations and advising on who can do what. The responsibility of Universities/Schools and Businesses was very much discussed in terms of policy creation to ensure that accessibility/outreach/encouragement/technological tools are available to facilitate inclusion.  Education value was also discussed because it can change society’s view of disability. Government shares a large portion of responsibility in this matter.

15.45 Closing remarks
Philip Connolly: Phillip played a small game (theatre) with some volunteers. One volunteer stayed in the middle of a circle. Phillip asked each volunteer forming the circle to give a detailed description about the appearance of the volunteer standing in the centre of the circle. Each volunteer gave a slight different answer. After all volunteers gave their description, Phillip asked three questions:

  1. Who said the truth?

Answer: Everyone said the truth

  1. What is the truth?

Answer: All the answers together are the truth. Each volunteer could only give the description of what they were able to see, which was only partly true.

  1. How did they know that this was the truth?

Answer: Because each one of the volunteers experienced the truth.

The powerful exercise aimed to make all delegates understand better what disability means and what inclusivity can bring to understand the truth.

16.00 Networking drinks reception

17.00 Close