Five Scientists with Disabilities Whom You Should Know

Skylar Bayer and Gabi Serrato Marks

In 2018, we (Skylar and Gabi) got together and decided that we would create a book with a diversity of stories about disability and medical conditions in STEM, help contributors tell their stories in their own voices, and provide representation for disabled scientists everywhere. The result was Uncharted: How  Scientists Navigate Their Own Health, Research, and Experiences of Bias which includes thirty-two stories from current and former scientists. Here, we highlight five of those contributors who are practicing scientists today.

Dr. Juniper L. Simonis: Ecologist and Entrepreneur

Color photo of Juniper L. Simonis writing on a white board.
Photo courtesy of Moments by Mariah.

Dr. Juniper L. Simonis (they/them) is a trailblazing figure in ecology and disability advocacy. Based in Portland, Oregon, Juniper is a psychiatrically disabled freelance ecologist and the proud owner of DAPPER Stats. They also lead the Chemical Weapons Research Center, dedicated to unraveling the effects of chemical weapons on society and the environment. Juniper earned their PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University. With their service dog, Wallace Alfred Russel Simonis, by their side, ’Juniper contributes in multidimensional ways that exemplify excellence in science, advocacy, and community engagement. In addition to their scientific pursuits, Juniper is a four-time Women’s Flat Track Derby Association world champion with the Rose City Rollers’ Wheels of Justice.

Mpho Kgoadi: Astrophysicist

Color photograph of Mpho Kgoad
Photo courtesy of Mpho Kgoadi.

Mpho Kgoadi (he/him) is an astrophysicist and a PhD candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, where he also received his undergraduate degree. Mpho specializes in cosmology, specifically the role of dark matter in the early universe. He is living with transverse myelitis and is a wheelchair user. He is passionate about science communication, teaching, and motivational speaking. Mpho hopes to one day be a great researcher and teacher who empowers the next generation of Black children in Africa to reach for their dreams. Mpho describes himself as a “typical geek” who enjoys gaming and watching anime and superhero movies as well as reading novels and comic books.

Dr. Michele Cooke: Geoscientist

Color photograph of Michele Cooke
Photo courtesy of Michele Cooke.

Dr. Michele Cooke (she/her) is a professor of earth, geographic, and climate sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research focuses on earthquake and fault mechanics. Michele received her PhD from Stanford University and has since earned many research awards and fellowships. While navigating her career with a disability, Michele has advocated for disability inclusion within academia and won awards in recognition of these efforts, including the International Association for Geoscience Diversity’s Inclusive Geoscience Education and Research Award. She co-coordinates The Mind Hears, a blog by and for deaf and hard of hearing academics that crowdsources strategies and creates community among academics with deafness.

Maureen Hayden: Marine Biologist

Color photograph of Maureen Hayden
Photo courtesy of Maureen Hayden.

Maureen Hayden (she/her) is a graduate student at Texas A&M University, working toward her doctorate in marine biology and studying plastic pollution on Texas beaches. Although she grew up in the desert state of Arizona, she has become an advocate for marine life and our oceans. She earned her bachelor’s in marine biology from the University of Rhode Island and her master’s in biology from Walla Walla University, receiving several awards and scholarships to support her research and education. She is pursuing a career as a scientist researching the effects of climate change on the marine environment. Maureen blogs about her experiences as a blind researcher and mentors blind college students to help reduce barriers and improve accessibility for people with low vision.

Dr. Divya M. Persaud: Planetary Geologist

Black and white photograph of Dr. Divya M. Persaud
Photo courtesy of Myah Jeffers.

Dr. Divya M. Persaud (she/her) is a planetary geologist, writer, composer, and speaker. Her research focuses on advancing imaging techniques and technologies for studying the surfaces of planets. She is also the cofounder of Space Science in Context, a free, virtual conference for people working on pressing issues relating to space and society that also advances accessible meeting formats. Her forthcoming book, do not perform this: a song cycle, won the 2017 Editor’s Choice Award from the “Great” Indian Poetry Collective, and her poems have appeared in Anomaly, the Deaf Poets Society, the A3 Review, and elsewhere. She has performed and spoken about her art, science, and advocacy internationally. Divya also serves as an accessibility consultant and expert in accessible events.

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