Resources for IR Professionals with Disabilities

Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. Questions may be submitted to 

This month’s question is answered by Claire Goverts, Assistant Director - Office of Institutional Research & Analysis, The College at Brockport, State University of New York.

The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Subscribers are invited to join the discussion by commenting at the end of the article.

Claire-Goverts.jpgDear Claire: How does having a disability impact your work in IR? How have resources available to you at your institution helped?

Before getting into the details, I want to emphasize that while others may have similar diagnoses, I am speaking about my own personal experience - other experiences may vary. I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and depression in elementary school. These are things I have lived with for most of my life. This year, the depression was diagnosed as cyclothymia, which is a mood disorder where moods swing between short periods of mild depression and hypomania, an elevated mood. I’ve gotten used to the depressive episodes and now I’m figuring out how to work with the hypomania moods.


There is a definite interaction between cyclothymia and ADD. I experience mood shifts along with times where focus can be harder to maintain. For managing tasks, I need to be purposeful with organization and time management to stay on top of projects, and avoid possible distraction. At my previous institution, I found it helpful to build an Access database to track tasks. This was especially useful when I was the lone IR person for nine months between directors.

The ADD brings hyper focus along with the ability to fairly easily switch between detail oriented and bigger picture thinking. The hyper focus is useful for powering through data work. This excerpt from the Chronicle article, based on results from a survey about IR conducted by the American Council on Education is spot on, in that “Institutional researchers have to be focused on the big picture and detail-oriented." 1

Resources – On Campus

There is programming at Brockport which is open to the campus community. This past fall, I went to a presentation about disabilities at our 2016 Diversity conference, which helped frame how I see myself in moving away from the medical model of disabilities (broken) to the social model (different abilities) 2. There was also further learning in a Disability Awareness/Pride training 3 which emphasized the social model along with being more aware of specific instances of ableism. Starting this fall, we will have a faculty and staff with disabilities interest group which I’ll be leading. This is a place to share experiences along with providing feedback to the Committee on Disability and Access and Office of Diversity and Inclusion on areas for improvement.

Resources – The IR Community:

I have been discussing my mental illness and ADD with others. In one conversation, my colleague, Tod Massa, mentioned that the easy switch from detail view to big picture is an IR “Super Power,” which is useful for easily switching between data details and state/federal policy. This model is how he has leveraged his ADHD throughout his career. His comments provided a specific example to me in thinking more along the lines of disabilities in the social model. In discussions with IR colleagues I have felt supported rather than experiencing the stigma/judgement that can sometimes occur. Also, having eAIR publish this piece is a powerful demonstration of support. I hope this article will empower others to speak out and seek available resources at their campuses and institutions, or encourage development of additional programs for people with various types of disabilities.



2 “Disability and Ableism in Higher Education,” Jennifer Ashton, Ph.D. and Milo Obourn, Ph.D.

3 “Self Advocacy and Disability Pride” - Facilitated by Regional Center for Independent Living/ACCES-VR



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Total Comments: 3
John posted on 9/21/2017 2:33 PM
Thank you, Claire for sharing your story with us. You are inspiring to our profession and for many who live illnesses that many do not understand. I know you are the type of person who will keep sharing your story. Trust me, it is having a huge impact. Thank you AIR for the article.
Michelle posted on 9/24/2017 11:02 AM
I, too, walk the path of depression. I have thankfully been able to keep it in check for several years. And, for the most part, its only manifestation in my career has been imposter syndrome. I am the mother of two disabled people who also struggle with depression. Breaking the stigma and working in the social model are so important in our family. Thank you, Claire, for showing us how to do both.
Kari posted on 9/25/2017 9:28 AM
Thank you for this, Claire, it's good to know I'm not alone. I have bipolar, PTSD, and severe social anxiety, the last two of which I have a service dog to help with. My two previous jobs have not been good about my service dog, but the college I'm at now has been amazing, so I really feel like they support my health. Having a supportive work environment can make all the difference.