null Panel discussion at the RI-MUHC marks International Day of People Living with Disabilities

Experts and advocates joined the RI-MUHC community to discuss integrating people with disabilities into work and research

Source: RI-MUHC.

Albert Einstein, who had dyslexia and a learning disability, may have had difficulty getting a job in today’s working world.

Integrating people with disabilities into work and research was the main topic of discussion in a recent panel discussion held at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). With the theme of “Challenging Prejudices,” the panel invited experts and advocates to discuss the many benefits that people with disabilities can bring to the workplace, as well as the kinds of accommodations that can help them thrive.

The panel was held to mark the International Day of People Living with Disabilities. An opportunity to highlight the contributions made by people living with disabilities, this day is also meant to ensure that they can participate fully in society, on an equal footing, effectively and without obstacles. The panel was an initiative of the RI-MUHC’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan, for which a key aim is to communicate and celebrate institutional diversity.

Panel members Véronique Leduc, François Bernier and Fatoumata Bah were invited to reflect on their own experiences and discuss how their lived experience with disability has influenced their professional and research work. All three explained that their experiences were rooted in the discrimination experienced throughout their lives, including within their professional and academic paths.

Experts and advocates (L-R) Véronique Leduc, François Bernier and Fatoumata Bah joined the RI-MUHC community for a virtual panel meeting to discuss integrating people with disabilities into work and research. Far right: Moderator Diego Herrerra, PhD, an EDI specialist at the RI-MUHC
Experts and advocates (L-R) Véronique Leduc, François Bernier and Fatoumata Bah joined the RI-MUHC community for a virtual panel meeting to discuss integrating people with disabilities into work and research. Far right: Moderator Diego Herrerra, PhD, an EDI specialist at the RI-MUHC

“There was a time where I thought that in order to do research, one had to adopt the paradigm of objectivity and be completely detached from the object of our research,” explained Véronique Leduc, professor in the Department of Social and Public Communications at UQÀM, and Canada Research Chair on Cultural Citizenship of Deaf People and Cultural Equity Practices.

“I’ve always been passionate about finding solutions to accessibility barriers,” said Fatoumata Bah, a data support specialist at the University of Ottawa and lead accessibility specialist at Open Collaboration for Cognitive Disabilities. “I find that my lived experience really does inform the work that I do in the sense that, in doing accessibility research (…) I have this connection to other people with disabilities, so I can conduct research with them and connect with them on a level that maybe another researcher would not.”

François Bernier’s path is somewhat different, as his professional life does not involve research but rather entrepreneurship. “With the challenges that I went through, I became someone who is fearless,” he said. “Fearless and always searching for solutions. This is why, I believe, I became an entrepreneur, and why I am successful.”

A discussion of good practices for integration of people living with disabilities in the working and research environment followed. The panelists agreed that integration generally comes through adapting the work environment and making spaces accessible to people living with disabilities. Research and work teams need to be prepared for other ways of working.

“We can define mentors,” said Bernier. “It does not need to be a supervisor, but a colleague who helps the person with disability to navigate into the team.”

“For me, the question isn’t so much why should we hire people with disabilities, but rather why are we still asking that question in 2022,” said Leduc. “We are in a society that functions on systemic power dynamics; people who are hired, currently, have no merit in being there. If we turned things around and lived in a society where people living with disabilities were in positions of power, would we be asking ourselves what the advantage is in integrating white men in the workplace?”

According to Bah, organizations need to recognize that marginalized identities intersect. “People can be Black and disabled, for instance,” she explained. “We need to make sure our integration processes take into account these multiple realities.”

The panelists then discussed how disability could lead to innovation. They agreed that in order to foster innovation, it is important to consider that a different process does not necessarily mean a worse one. Bah explained how neurodiverse people can streamline processes or help think in systematic ways that produce concrete results. Bernier pointed out that people living with disabilities can open up creative possibilities for marketing to a wider audience.

The panel also talked about job advertisements. “We often see listings that will list twenty different requirements or attributes for a particular job,” said Bah. “Some people, myself included, will think very literally. Neurodiverse people seeing this list will tell themselves, “I don’t have point #6, so I’m not qualified for this job.” She clarified that job postings should be presented in a clear and accessible manner, quantifying obligatory versus advantageous requirements. Bah also suggested asking applicants what they need in order to make the interview as accessible as possible. She gave the example of offering interview questions in advance. “There’s no point in having an element of surprise to your questions,” Bah said.

The group was asked to address new requirements from research funding organizations such as CIHR, which require researchers to have equity, diversity and inclusion plans as a condition of accessing funds. “I think that if you’re in front of a grant application and it’s the first time you ever have to think about EDI, there might be more work to do,” said Bah. “Maybe take a step back and ask yourself: are you really just doing this to check a line on a grant application?”

“We should not wait for grant applications to start action; we need to be proactive rather than reactive,” added Leduc. “This means we should prepare our teams and our infrastructure to welcome people with disabilities.”

Diego Herrera, PhD, EDI Specialist at the RI-MUHC, moderated the panel discussion, which welcomed about 75 attendees. The meeting was supported by two sign language interpreters and French and English translators. A recording of the panel session is available to researchers, trainees and staff of the RI-MUHC, on the RI-MUHC Portal. (Login is required.)

For questions and further information about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the RI-MUHC, please email edi.ri [at] or visit the EDI section of the RI-MUHC website.

December 3, 2022