Attention given to disabilities at diversity summit

Deaf veterinarian says awareness helps everyone
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A regional meeting on diversity and inclusion in veterinary academia broke new ground this year. Organizers are calling it the first major conference to focus on disability and accessibility in veterinary medicine.

The Midwest and Southeast biennial summits on diversity were held this past spring at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine—co-hosted by Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine—and at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, respectively.

The focus of the Midwest Regional Iverson Bell Diversity meeting, held May 20-22, was integrating disability and accessibility within current definitions of diversity. Attendees learned about the many types of disabilities; the responsibilities that veterinary colleges have to ensure that students, faculty, and staff have appropriate and legally protected accommodations; and how disabilities are a part of diversity and inclusion programs.

Dr. Kim Dodge, co-founder of the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss, earned her DVM degree from Michigan State in 1999 and spoke at the conference.

“When I went to school, the Americans with Disabilities Act was relatively new. People didn’t know how to accommodate deaf students. Everyone always wondered, ‘What are we going to do with these students?’ Now, the question is, ‘What do we need to do to ensure these students can learn alongside everyone else?’ It’s become a different approach,” she was quoted as saying in a university press release.

Evidence-based practices, findings, and recommendations were presented at the end of the conference. In addition, the institutions represented at the summit expressed interest in forming a committee to discuss setting technical standards for accessibility at veterinary colleges, to be led by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

Dr. Dodge and Hilda Mejia Abreu
The focus of the Midwest Regional Iverson Bell Diversity meeting was disability and accessibilty in a diverse culture. Hilda Mejia Abreu (right), PhD, acting assistant dean for diversity and inclusion at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a university press release, “By discussing evidence-based and best practices for assisting students, staff, and faculty members with disabilities, we are helping to ensure that every individual receives the highest quality education we have to offer.” With her is Dr. Kim Dodge, who co-founded a group for professionals with hearing loss. (Courtesy of MSU CVM)

Dr. Beth Sabin, associate director for international and diversity initiatives for the AVMA, attended the summit. She said it provided a good reminder of the complexity of diversity and that disabilities—visible and nonvisible—are part of the spectrum. Practicing veterinarians would be well-served to think critically about what they can do to make their clinic more accessible, Dr. Sabin said, a change that could help them broaden their clientele.

“With some thought, conversation, and minimal effort, practice owners can implement changes to better accommodate disabled individuals, whether those individuals are working for them or they are clients,” she said. “The use of accommodations helps level the playing field; it’s not about making things easier for some, instead, it’s about providing opportunities for all.”

Owners could familiarize themselves with standards for accommodations, to make their clinics more accessible, for example. Or, Dr. Sabin said, veterinarians who give presentations at schools or continuing education events could develop materials that are also suited for people who are colorblind or dyslexic.

Meanwhile, the Southeast DiVersity Matters regional summit, held April 22-24, centered on ongoing efforts to strengthen the preveterinary recruiting pipeline and the challenges faced by those who are underrepresented in veterinary medicine.

Dr. Willie M. Reed, dean of Purdue’s veterinary college, said in his keynote address that to move the needle to increase diversity and inclusion in the profession, there must be a viable recruiting pipeline, a culture of inclusion, and more people willing to advance the cause.

“The profession needs to reflect the population. Our profession will become irrelevant if we don’t change with the world. Our country is diverse—we should be as well,” he said.

“Diversity is for everyone, not just students of color. Diversity and inclusion measures must be a priority for the entire college. Focusing on a welcoming culture and environment is important.”

Purdue has created a number of diversity initiatives, including its Access to Animal Related Careers program. This is a summer program targeted at preveterinary students and focuses on large animal learning experience. Early admission to the veterinary college is extended to outstanding students in the program. Purdue also admits preveterinary students to its summer research programs.

Another diversity recruiting initiative mentioned was Florida A&M University’s Veterinary Leadership through Early Admissions for Diversity program. It is an early-admission program in partnership with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Students receive a provisional admissions decision from U of M at the end of their sophomore year of undergraduate school. In addition, the Graduate Record Examination requirement is waived, and students participate in summer independent study, research, and internship opportunities as well as receive mentorship from veterinary faculty and students.

Dr. Louis F. Archbald, a UF professor emeritus of theriogenology, received the inaugural Champion of Diversity Award in recognition of his lifetime efforts promoting inclusion within the veterinary medical profession.

Dr. Anna Reddish, an assistant director for student initiatives in the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division, attended the Southeast diversity summit.

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