I am pleased to share a notable development in NIH’s ongoing efforts to advance disability equity and inclusion in the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise.
NIH is inviting feedback on a proposed revision to its mission statement through a new Request for Information (RFI). The suggested change in language would make NIH’s mission statement more inclusive of people with disabilities.
NIH’s current mission is “To seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.”
The bold text signifies NIH’s proposed update to its mission: “To seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and to apply that knowledge to optimize health and prevent or reduce illness for all people.”
In considering a change to its mission statement, NIH seeks to ensure that it accurately reflects and communicates its goal of turning scientific discoveries into better health for the entire U.S. populace.
I encourage you to participate in this opportunity to provide input on NIH’s mission statement by responding to the RFI. NIH is accepting feedback through November 24.
Supporting Disability Inclusion
While 27% of the U.S. adult population reports living with a disability, adults with disabilities make up 3% of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce. According to the most recent NIH workforce demographic data, 8.6% of the NIH workforce reported having a disability.
NIH’s focus on enhancing scientific workforce diversity includes supporting disability inclusion and having people with disabilities named an underrepresented group in the Notice of NIH’s Interest in Diversity.
The suggestion to update the NIH mission statement came from a subgroup of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director’s Working Group on Diversity (ACD WGD). The subgroup was charged with considering actions NIH could take to support the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in its workforce and funded research. The subgroup’s suggestions were carefully considered and endorsed by the ACD WGD, which in turn presented the suggestions to the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD). The ACD carefully considered the report, discussed it at the December 2022 public meeting, and recommended the full report to NIH for action.
The subgroup report was published in December 2022, providing a detailed discussion of the background and context for their suggestions. The report’s authors wrote, “One immediate action for the NIH to support disability inclusion is to remove the language of ‘reducing disability’ from the NIH mission statement. The current mission statement could be interpreted as perpetuating ableist beliefs that disabled people are flawed and need to be ‘fixed.’”
In response, NIH leadership issued an RFI to solicit public input regarding a potential change to the NIH mission statement.
Examining More Than Mission Statements
It is important to note that updating a mission statement is just one action an organization might take to foster disability equity and inclusion. Transformative change involves identifying and addressing systemic and structural factors that may hinder the participation of people with disabilities in science.
NIH has taken other recent actions to support accessibility and disability inclusion. In September, NIH designated people with disabilities as a population with health disparities. This designation helps encourage research specific to the health issues and unmet health needs of people with disabilities. NIH also issued a new funding opportunity that will support innovative research focusing on the health and healthcare of people with disabilities and the intersections with race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
I am proud that NIH leads by example to make the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise more equitable and inclusive for all people, including those with disabilities. I look forward to sharing updates with you as these efforts evolve.