The Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we asked Carrissa Ammons, an alumna of the California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) Pathways training program, to share her experiences as a student-researcher with low vision.
What sparked your interest in education research?
My interest in education research stems from my own lived educational experiences as a formerly impoverished person who was born with a visual impairment. My innate passion for understanding the world around me motivated me to continue learning, and my intrinsic curiosity drew me towards the sciences at a rather young age. Over time, I became interested in psychology, and I entered college with the goal of becoming a clinical psychologist. However, my exposure to research methods and applied research experiences within the Cultural and Community Lab at CSUS gave me the confidence to pursue a career as a researcher. Now, I want to use my knowledge and work to help reduce barriers to education for individuals who have not been historically represented within education and the social sciences.
What was your favorite experience as a Pathways fellow?
My Pathways summer internship at the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) has been an invaluable part of my professional and personal development. The internship was challenging at times but also incredibly fulfilling. All of the SCOE staff I worked with were supportive and gave me great insight into how the state values and uses evidence-based decision making and evaluation. During my 10-week internship, I assisted with a variety of projects, including evaluations for programs relating to bullying prevention, underage substance use prevention and intervention, and California National History Day. I also helped complete a literature review on evidence-based practices in recruiting and retaining diverse teacher candidates for the SCOE internal education career pipeline program.
I learned that researchers who work for state organizations must excel at communicating their findings to both technical and non-technical audiences because they are often tasked with communicating data to individuals with little to no background in research, and because they heavily rely on data visualization as a means of disseminating information in a way that is easy to digest for a diverse array of audiences.
What have been some challenges or barriers you have faced in academia as a person with low vision?
Transportation and inequitable access to written and visual information have been the most salient barriers to education that I have faced during my academic career. I am unable to obtain a driver’s license in most states due to the level of my visual impairment, so I am often dependent on public transportation. While I am incredibly grateful for the increased freedom that I have been granted by the Sacramento Regional Transit, some areas of their system can still be a bit inconsistent—it can be difficult, if not impossible at times, to make impromptu changes to my weekly routines. This structural restriction to my mobility has made it difficult to participate in events and activities outside of certain time frames and areas, and this can evoke a lot of anxiety and aversions for me as I try to fully participate in academic experiences and extra-curricular activities.
For example, reaching the CSUS campus from my home via transit requires a transfer from a bus to the light rail and onto another bus. This process takes approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes from door to door for a trip that would typically take approximately 20 minutes by car. If an issue arose during any leg of this trip (such as a late or canceled bus), it could set me back an hour or more depending on the time of day. This has caused me to miss entire classes and events at times. Alongside the stress of arriving places on time, relying on the public transit system as one’s sole means of transportation can be incredibly taxing mentally at the end of the day. There were many times during my evening commute home from college when the bus on the last leg of my trip would be canceled for the evening due to a driver shortage, forcing me to either ask a loved one or use a rideshare service (which as a student was not always financially feasible).
Having low vision has also been a barrier throughout my education; however, major advancements in accessible technology during my college years have provided me with more equitable access to visual information. There are some environments, such as academic conferences, where I still struggle to gain access to the same quality of experience as my fully sighted peers. For example, academic poster sessions are environments that require a lot of reading, and for individuals to be able to quickly scan information in order to get the most out of the limited time provided for each session. While most presenters are happy to explain their work to their onlookers, it can still be difficult at times to get the full picture of their work without being able to fully examine all the components of their posters, such as charts or tables.
One easy way presenters and conferences can disseminate information in a more equitable way is to include tools like QR codes on visual material to allow individuals to view them in ways that may be most accessible to them. Academic organizations can also make more of an effort to assess the needs of their members prior to conferences, rather than assuming that everyone with a disability will be able to advocate and accommodate for themselves prior to the event, especially those that claim to be student-friendly organizations. Learning to navigate new spaces can be difficult enough, let alone having to do so while having physical or mental traits that were not considered during the planning and implementation of these events.
What advice would you give students with disabilities who wish to pursue a career in education research?
I wish all students with disabilities could recognize that the concept of disability is a byproduct of living in a society that was not built with us in mind, and those traits do not reflect any deficit in our personal ability to achieve our dreams. It may be difficult at times, but never forget that representation is the only way we, as a scientific community, can achieve the fullest picture of the human experience and push the needle closer to creating an inclusive society for everyone, including ourselves. Despite being faced with myriad historic and contemporary barriers to inclusion and belonging within our society, we have always been here, we will always be here, and our voices deserve to be included in conversations pertaining to education and human development.
Carrissa Ammons recently graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. As part of her Pathways fellowship at CSUS, Carissa conducted research with Dr. Lisa Romero on the efficacy of motivated self-regulation theory in mitigating implicit biases of college level educators. This summer, Carissa served as a data analysis and visualization intern at the Sacramento County Department of Education’s Center for Student Assessment and Program Accountability. Carissa is currently applying to graduate school and says her ultimate career goal is to become a professor of psychology and run her own research lab with a focus on studying diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within higher education, with an emphasis on personal identity and stereotype threat.
This NDEAM blog post was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), Program Officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training program.