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Recent NIH Progress on Disability Access and Inclusion

Member for

1 year 11 months
07.26.22 By Marie A. Bernard
Disability Pride Month Flag

 

Each of the colors on the Disability Pride flag represents a disability or impairment. Blue: Mental illness; Yellow: Cognitive and intellectual disabilities; Green: Sensory perception disabilities; White: Invisible and undiagnosed disabilities; Red: Physical disabilities. Credit: NIH
Each of the colors on the Disability Pride flag represents
a disability or impairment. Blue: Mental illness;
Yellow: Cognitive and intellectual disabilities;
Green: Sensory perception disabilities;
White: Invisible and undiagnosed disabilities;
Red: Physical disabilities.

On July 26, the COSWD Office celebrates the 32nd anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, a comprehensive civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities. July is also Disability Pride Month, which commemorates the disability civil rights movement and celebrates disability as an identity.

Individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral research workforce, even though 26% of individuals in the United States—one in four people—live with at least one type of disability. One year ago, I discussed some ways the NIH is addressing disability inclusion. Today, I am pleased to update you on these initiatives and introduce you to a new NIH leader and important ally in addressing disparities encountered by individuals with disabilities.

The Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on Diversity ACD WGD) Subgroup on Individuals with Disabilities was established in 2021 by the ACD WGD to identify strategies that support individuals with disabilities in the biomedical research workforce. With support from the COSWD team, the subgroup is working on a white paper that captures this information. It will contain suggestions for how the NIH might advance its efforts to ensure the inclusion of more scientists with disabilities. The white paper is targeted for presentation at the December 2022 ACD meeting.

The forthcoming NIH Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Strategic Plan is a second noteworthy effort. This plan will articulate the NIH's vision for embracing, integrating, and strengthening DEIA for all underrepresented groups in NIH-supported biomedical science, including individuals with disabilities. The strategic plan is part of the NIH’s focus on identifying and addressing challenges and threats to equity across systems and populations.

Introducing Kevin D. Williams, J.D., Director of the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Kevin D. Williams, J.D., Director of the NIH
Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Credit: NIH
        Kevin D. Williams, J.D., Director of the NIH
        Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
        Credit: NIH

Kevin D. Williams, J.D., Director of the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), is our newest ally in the work to ensure equity for all, including individuals with disabilities. He has worked on DEIA policies and efforts, equal employment opportunity law and compliance programs, and culture change initiatives in the federal government for over 20 years. He joined EDI in June from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), where he was Deputy Executive Director. Mr. Williams has hit the ground running, engaging with NIH UNITE activities and the DEIA Strategic Plan.

"Equity in the workplace is achieved when everyone has the opportunity, access, and services to be successful," Mr. Williams told me in a recent conversation. "My experience in fostering equity for persons with disabilities includes dismantling systemic barriers, strengthening reasonable accommodation processes and policies, promoting work conditions that empower psychological safety, and educating leaders on hiring authorities."

Mr. Williams envisions EDI "serving as a trusted strategic partner in fostering a workforce where equity, diversity, and inclusion are inseparable from NIH's mission. Our goal is to establish a workforce where all policies, processes, practices, programs, and procedures create a transformative culture that respects, values, supports, and welcomes people of all backgrounds."

EDI Initiatives to Improve Access and Inclusion for Individuals with Disabilities

Mr. Williams highlighted three initiatives that EDI is leading to improve access and inclusion for individuals with disabilities at the NIH.

First is the Special Emphasis Portfolio for People with Disabilities, a federally mandated program that places "special emphasis" on ensuring equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. EDI’s Principal Strategist for People with Disabilities leads the program and collaborates with the NIH Disability Engagement Committee to identify barriers to equitable and inclusive employment experiences and to develop strategies to overcome these barriers.

Second, EDI is conducting a comprehensive barrier analysis to identify employment policies, procedures, practices, or conditions that limit opportunities for individuals with disabilities. This sort of analysis is a best practice and one to be emulated by academic and research institutions across the country.

Finally, EDI is developing an accessibility webpage to serve as a central portal for accessing accessibility resources at the NIH. Creating this type of resource is another best practice that other academic and research institutions could consider replicating.

EDI's efforts and other NIH interventions are critical to making the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise more inclusive for individuals with disabilities. In addition to changing the culture within the NIH and the research it supports, these efforts enable the NIH to model best practices that promote the development of inclusive research and educational environments at other institutions.

I will continue to report on the progress of these initiatives via this blog, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Please visit the EDI website and subscribe to its blog for updates.

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