Disability Advocacy and Outreach

Being Disabled as a Field Scientist

I’m learning to find my voice as a disability advocate and gain so much joy and sense of purpose in speaking about the need for accessibility in science. Basil, my service dog, helps me with my disabilities but is also becoming an important part of my outreach and education projects. Join us as we navigate academic life with chronic illness and raising awareness about the barriers disabled scientists often face!

A mosaic of images of various sizes showing Jade and Basil in different environments. Top row shows Image 1 on the left at a larger size, with Images 2 and 3 stacked on top of each other to the right. Bottom row shows Images 4 and 5 side by side sized to be the same height. Image 1 – a white woman and golden retriever service dog pose for a selfie in the back-of-house paleontology research hallway of a museum. Behind them are yellow doors to a fossil prep lab and another set of yellow double doors leading to the vertebrate paleontology fossil collection space. The woman has long brown hair tied back in a pony tail and wears a zebra print mask, oversized glasses, and a green floral print shirt. The pup wears a white lab coat, clear goggles, and a black service dog vest with white and mint green text. Image 2 – a white woman with brown hair stands at the edge of a large body of water and looks out over it with black binoculars. She wears tan plastic ring splints, a silver engagement ring and wedding band, a tan raincoat, and black swan-shaped earrings. Her hair is messy and windswept from the blustery lake-side environment. Image 3 – A fluffy eight-week old golden retriever puppy lays on a white tile floor wearing grey puppy diaper and a tiny black vest with “in training” patches on the side. Her ears are perked forward and quite large compared to her little face and she looks off to the left side of the photo with her paws stretched out in front of her. Image 4 – a white woman stands outside in a park and bends forward next to a sign encouraging social distancing due to COVID-19. She wears a bright multicolored cloth mask with a triangle pattern, a grey fleece long-sleeve shirt, a black backpack, binoculars on a harness, black pants, black knee fabric knee braces, and brown leather boots. She leans her right arm on a zebra-print forearm crutch and raises her left hand to give a thumbs-up to the camera. The sign to her right reads “Do your part, stay apart” above two stick figure people standing 6 ft (2m) apart with three cartoon goose drawings between them to signify the distance. Below the image is the text “keep a distance of 6 ft (2 m) (the length of three geese) from others” and a Toronto City Parks logo. Image 5 – a golden retriever service dog sits in a museum dinosaur gallery in front of a skeletal reconstruction of Anzu wyliei, a large caenagnathid ovirpatorosaur. She wears a black service dog vest with white and mint green text and smiles up at the camera. A leash wrap affixed to the front strap of her harness reads “In training, please ignore us”.

Basil and I made an appearance on The ROM Kids Show in February 2021, check out our episode (above) to learn more about service dogs, disability, and the need for accessibility!

We were also featured in a 2021 Nature article highlighting the barriers service dog handlers face in science and education, read it here!

Paleontology Outreach

I’ve been fortunate to have some very unique and fun opportunities to speak at public outreach events about paleontology, evolution, dinosaurs, and even the fascinating and bizarre world of animal mating styles!

A white woman sits at a long table covered in a bright green cloth in the dinosaur gallery of a museum. Behind her the 2nd floor gallery opens up as a balcony overlooking the main entrance of the museum where a large titanosaur (sauropod dinosaur) is mounted The woman has long brow hair and side swept bangs. She wears a black sweater and holds up a replica of a large theropod claw while talking to two children whose backs are to the camera. On the table next to the woman are three bird skeletons, one duck, one hawk or owl, and one tall stork. An acrylic case with a red base sits to the right of the skeletons and houses a replica of a large theropod dinosaur foot next to the foot bones of a cassowary and the arm/wing bones of another large bird. Taxidermy bird wings are also displayed on the table.
Public outreach at the Royal Ontario Museum – Talking bird leg form and function and showing off Deinonychus claws! Photo Credit Talia Lowi-Merri

Whether I’m working at a science outreach table at a museum, giving a public talk, guiding volunteers and visitors at dinosaur digs, or Skyping in to chat with a classroom – I love talking to people of all ages about our amazing planet and the evolutionary history of the animals that inhabit it!

A white woman with long brown hair sits and reclines against the slope of a tan rock outcrop. Her legs face the camera at an oblique angle but her torso is turned so that her left elbow props her up against the outcrop and she is gently removing rock from a fossilized bone with tools held in her right hand. She wears a black tank top, tan field pants, brown hiking boots, a brown leather workbelt with a black geology tool pouch, and a faded pink baseball cap. Three children observe the woman digging, two of them standing to the right and one of them sitting and looking closely at the fossil which is obscured from the camera's view by the woman's body. Everyone has their back to the camera and the scene is sunny. The impression overall is that the woman is showing the kids how to dig up a fossil in the field. A blue tarp covers a portion of the quarry just uphill and to the left of the people.
Demonstrating how to dig up a Triceratops, Carter County, Montana. Photo Credit Scott Williams

If you’d like to book me to speak about science, dinosaurs, accessibility, service dogs, or to skype/zoom into your classroom or distance learning program please reach out via my contact page!