Students with Disabilities in Undergraduate Research: Challenges And Opportunities

Individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in postsecondary science education. Given this, it is critical that we learn more about how individuals with disabilities navigate a variety of science learning environments and high-impact practices. One highly touted high-impact practice is undergraduate research, and national calls have advised that all science undergraduate students should engage in undergraduate research because it has been shown to lead to a range of benefits for those who participate. While participating in undergraduate research is arguably a vital part of a successful undergraduate science career, it is unclear to what extent students with disabilities are participating in undergraduate research experiences and what their experiences are like once they are in undergraduate research. In these studies, we first conducted a national survey to determine the number or students with disabilities participating in undergraduate research in the life sciences then conducted semi-structured interviews with students with a variety of disabilities who participated in undergraduate research. Overall, we found that about 12% of all undergraduate researchers self-identify as having a disability. Additionally, we classified unique challenges experienced by students with disabilities in undergraduate research as well as solutions that were identified. We also found that students with disabilities reported distinctive benefits from participating in undergraduate research and that they perceived they provide unique contributions to the research community. We hope this study illuminates the unique challenges and opportunities that students with disabilities experience when participating in undergraduate research to make it more accessible and inclusive.

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