(Australia) “Textbook case” of disability discrimination in grant applications – Nature (Jon Brock | January 2021)

A man in a wheelchair looks down a tall flight of concrete stairs

Justin Yerbury’s appeal prompts Australia’s NHMRC to revise its policy.

In May 2020, when Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) announced the results of its annual Investigator Grant funding round, Justin Yerbury was among the 87% of applicants who missed out.

Structural discrimination is real and cannot be tolerated.  Apart from its intrinsic interest, it is relevant to PPI initiatives that draw in people with disabilities as partners. If we can’t avoid discriminating against high achieving researchers with disabilities, how can we avoid either such discrimination or tokenism in PPI?

A professor in neurodegenerative disorders at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, Yerbury has motor neurone disease (MND). The condition means he has lost voluntary control of his muscles. He requires daily support from a team of carers, and his breathing is assisted by a mechanical ventilator. Unable to speak or type, he communicates using a device that tracks his eye-movements, and uses an electric wheelchair.

The feedback on his grant application showed that he had narrowly missed the cut, primarily because assessors were underwhelmed by his record of publications. “The track record was promising”, one assessor wrote. “However, relative to opportunity, I was looking for more first- and last-author publications.”

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(Australia) “Textbook case” of disability discrimination in grant applications – Nature (Jon Brock | January 2021)

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