Success in STEM

An Introduction to the Guide

The National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) is an organization focused on the support, empowerment and advocacy of post-secondary students with disabilities. The organization provides resources and assistance through multiple ventures, including relevant research, services, and scholarships to students with disabilities. NEADS supports disabled students in their educational pursuits, and advocates for their rights. The organization provides a national forum to facilitate communication and a network for students with disabilities across Canada to discuss their concerns, barriers and experiences as they navigate through their post-secondary programs.

Within the context of Canadian post-secondary research, students with disabilities are largely underrepresented in major studies. NEADS recognizes this problem, and is presently engaged in a number of projects and proposals to raise awareness around crucial issues and concerns pertaining to students with disabilities. This research is accessible to students through presentations, publications and the overall dissemination of the research outcomes in the NEADS network of schools and organizations. These ventures are sparking changes from the micro (student advocacy) to the macro (policy changes).

Over the past two years, with funding from the Imperial Oil Foundation, NEADS has spearheaded a significant research undertaking with the aim of enhancing opportunities for post-secondary students and graduates with disabilities in science and technology related fields. Previous research illustrates that there is an under-representation of people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (Burgstahler, 1994; Burgstahler, 1995; Blumekopf et al., 1996; Alston & Hampton, 2000; Stern, 2002). Specifically, these fields include: maths, chemistry, physics, environmental sciences, geology, information technology, and engineering. This guidebook has been aimed at understanding the barriers faced by students wishing to enter into these fields, the accessibility of such programs, and the availability of related resources and supports for students with disabilities within these fields.

The ‘Enhancing Opportunities for Post-Secondary Students and Graduates with Disabilities in Science and Technology-Related Fields’ project — and the research that led to the development of this guide — was multifaceted, in that it consisted of a literature review, environmental scan, and key informant interviews. The environmental scan for this project included contacting relevant organizations and disability service providers; then identifying and contacting key stakeholders, and conducting appropriate consultations. Additionally, key informant interviews were conducted with students with disabilities in science and technology fields of study, recent graduates from these programs, disability service providers, teachers/professors, and employers.

This study provided insight into the opportunities, accessibility, resources, and difficulties that many students with disabilities encounter in the science and technology fields. The guide you are reading illustrates the evidence uncovered and the lessons learned in our research. It provides a framework for the different opportunities and resources that are available within Canada. It also presents the pertinent issues in the context of a number of important subjects: advocacy, rights, disclosure concerns, workplace and school accessibility. It presents stories of personal triumph from students’ recollections as they navigated through their education and sought challenging career opportunities. It is our hope that the guide will be used as a tool by students who are interested in science and technology fields of study and careers but who have questions along the way, as well as by educators of such students and employers who may be curious or concerned about the prospect of hiring people with disabilities.