Kathleen Bogart, Ph.D.
Lisa G. Aspinwall, Ph.D.
Disability can be considered the largest minority group in America; about 25% of adults in America had a disability in 2018 according to the CDC. However, people with disabilities are severely underrepresented in the field of psychology. Only about 2% of psychology faculty at all APA-accredited programs disclosed a disability.
As the field devoted to understanding human behavior, emotion, and cognition, it is surprising that the largest minority group is not well-represented among our professionals and in our research and teaching. Specifically, disability as a topic of study clearly falls within the domain of social, personality, and health psychology, our own subdisciplines. While social and personality research on minority identities and prejudice involving race, ethnicity, and LGBTQ+, status is relatively well-developed, there has been less attention on disability and ableism in social psychology. Further, disability intersects with all these other identities, meaning many disabled psychologists are multiply marginalized.
Based on our own experiences as disabled scholars, the three of us (Kathleen Bogart, Lisa Aspinwall, and Afrooz Ghadimi) have founded the Disability Advocacy and Research Network (DARN) to build a disability community in psychology.
Kathleen was born with a disability (facial paralysis), and her experience adapting and communicating with others led her to pursue social psychology. In college and graduate school, she ached for peers and role models who identified as disabled but found none. Ph.D. training in psychology research follows a mentorship model, and because there were few social psychology researchers studying disability, she struggled to find an advisor. Fortunately, she found a supportive ally in her Ph.D. mentor Linda Tickle-Degnen at Tufts University. Kathleen now researches ableism and hopes to build community for others interested in researching similar topics, and/or who have experienced ableism.
For Lisa Aspinwall, who sustained serious wrist injuries in graduate school and now works by voice recognition, the experience of being a faculty member with a disability revealed both the lack of information related to conducting research and teaching with a disability and the lack of social support and community faced by people with disabilities, especially those who have rare and/or invisible conditions. Lisa hopes that DARN can not only bring disabled students and faculty together to share strategies for success but also educate the broader educational community to respect and encourage students’ use of accommodations.
Afrooz Ghadimi’s interest in disability advocacy began after she got accommodations during the final year of undergrad. For most of her education, she had not considered her invisible disability to be “disabling” enough to seek accommodations. Afrooz attributes this to internalized stigma, ableism (e.g., wanting to be “high functioning”), and a lack of comprehensive education on disability and accessibility issues. Recently, she connected with psychology students and faculty who shared her feelings of isolation and expressed a need for building community and encouraging connection. Afrooz hopes DARN can 1) be a platform for disabled psychology students and faculty to connect, collaborate, and find community, and 2) contribute towards overcoming all levels of stigma within the academic community.