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Promoting Inclusive Spaces for STEM Fields and Agricultural Sciences

July 20, 2017

By Jenna Shelton

Woman with shoulder length hair and a dark suit jacket smiles at the camera

Jenna Shelton

The narrow rows and rocky terrain make it difficult for people with physical impairments to navigate.

An agricultural research space at UC Berkeley

This article was first published as a guest column in World Learning’s Transforming Agency Access and Power (TAAP) Tuesday newsletter on July 18, 2017. It is cross-posted here with the permission of author Jenna Shelton and of World Learning.

Although people with disabilities have the capability to be doctors, engineers, agriculturalists, and chemists, there are few people with disabilities in these science-heavy areas. The absence of disabled people in Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is a symptom of the all too frequent inaccessible experiential learning opportunities in STEM fields.  How do people with disabilities access and thrive in STEM opportunities if training and field spaces cannot provide inclusive accommodations? In Addressing the Inaccessibility of Research Spaces at UC Berkeley: Fostering Participation of People with Disabilities in STEM Fields, Jenna Shelton, a former student at UC Berkeley and a disability rights advocate, explores the lack of people with disabilities in science-based fields on UC Berkeley’s campus. She attributes the lack of people with disabilities to the exclusive built environment of science field spaces on college campuses as well as negative attitudes of disability within scientific fieldwork and practical sciences.

The project started when Jenna, then a junior at UC Berkeley studying agriculture and environmental sciences, could not find an inclusive accommodation for an agro-ecology course. Since she started gardening in a wheelchair at age six, she knew that inclusive accommodations in agricultural spaces were possible. After her request for inclusive accommodation received considerable pushback from the university, she led efforts to survey research spaces for accessibility with disabled student researchers. While the research team focused on surveying agricultural research spaces, the team also collected testimonials from students with disabilities who have faced barriers to accommodations in other STEM fields. With the information collected, Jenna wrote a policy analysis on why inaccessibility in STEM fields and agricultural sciences is a problem on UC Berkeley’s campus and how it can be addressed through a combination of universal design using environmental sustainability and training on inclusive accommodations for professors. Some recommendations include integrating raised garden beds and braille into the spaces, creating accessible pathways for cane and wheelchair users, and training professors on integrating inclusive accommodation in their work.

While this project was conducted on a very local scale, it can also be applied to global issues of accessibility in agriculture. Disability is not uncommon in agricultural work. Farmworkers who become disabled often face difficult decisions in how to provide for their families. Thus, implementation of inclusive accommodation in sustainable farming on a global scale can support the livelihoods of disabled farmers as well as environmental health. “Agricultural sciences within our global food system is a prime example of how people with disabilities have been excluded. People with disabilities are not seen as farmers. If farmers become disabled, they lose their livelihoods. It is time that we implement inclusive design and social structures that allow people with disabilities to access opportunities and participate in a global society,” says Shelton.

To learn more about Jenna Shelton’s work visit here.

Jenna Shelton is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Jenna Shelton is completing her internship at International Medical CorpsRead the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, World Learning, or International Medical Corps.


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