March for Science Speech by Amber Olson, April 14, 2018

My name is Amber Olson.  I am an undergraduate at UCD, a researcher at Anshutz, a single mother, a first-generation college student, and I have both a visible and invisible disability.

Amber Olson
Amber Olson

On March 14th of this year, one of my favorite scientists died, Dr. Stephen Hawking.  Most people would say that it was apropos that he should pass on what could be considered a holy day for scientists; pi day and Albert Einstein’s birthday.  He himself was a math genus who brought to us a greater understanding of the vast universe we live in, thus creating a holy trinity of life, death, and a never-ending repetition of numbers that somehow perfectly works as a foundation in so many ways.  Born in 1942 he lived his life as an able-bodied person until 1963, when at the age of 21 he was diagnosed with ALS and given only a few years to live. He became despondent, unsure of how to move forward. Yet he credited his ALS diagnosis with helping him become more focused on his studies and giving him the motivation, if not the inspiration, to write and do ground breaking research about the inner workings of the universe.  Ideas that have become the inspiration for so many scientists, including myself over the years.

Days after his death many people said he was a “miracle”, as if being a disabled scientist is something that could only happen through divine intervention.  First and foremost, he was a brilliant mind who found his voice through his ALS, but brilliant minds with disabilities exist out there yet are never known about.  His success was not just about his brain, it was also the success of a team of people who supported him and gave him the accessibility he needed in order to succeed at inspiring us all.  From universal health care that provided doctors and assistance to him, to innovations in computers that allowed him to have a voice when he had lost his own. Science, through research, medical, and technical, gave him the ability to bring his great passion to all of us.  Accessibility allowed him to freely travel, to be seen, to live. These things were detrimental in allowing Dr Hawking to teach all of us about the Universe in a nutshell, and these things are in danger of being lost to many aspiring young disabled scientists today.

In one month will mark the three-year anniversary of the stroke that took my eye sight.  At the time I did not know how, or if, I was going to be able to continue to peruse my love of neuroscience research.  Luckily, I stand before you today, because of the NIH and their Endure fellowship grant which is a grant that supports young scientists from under represented populations, become the neuroscientists of tomorrow.  Without new innovations in medical diagnosis and treatment, I would not be here today. With out pell grants and funding for college, I would not be here today. With out accessibility I would not be here today.

Disability representation in the sciences is a must.  With many different experiences, comes many ways of looking at and solving life’s greatest mysteries. Through this diversity, science grows and expands, it helps people every day to live meaningful and fulfilling lives.  Without this diversity, science is lifeless.

Myself and my fellow disabled comrades, are not asking for an advantage, we are seeking a level playing field.  We are demanding our right to affordable health care. Our right to affordable safe housing in unpolluted areas.  Our right to accessibility to public and private spaces. Our right to learning accessibility so that we may explore knowledge on our own terms.  Our right to public education that includes us and guides us into science. Our right to research that illuminates who we are as human beings, and that makes our lives more fulfilling.

We are all brilliant and amazing in our own way, and we deserve a right to shoot for the stars and inspire future generations in the same way Dr Hawing did.

When you fight for disability rights, you fight for the future of science.  When you fight for science you fight for those with disabilities.

Thank you.