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Canadian biochemist places disabled's fate firmly on the table

1 Jul 1999

Few delegates present at the World Conference could have failed to notice Gregor Wolbring. Wolbring is a biochemist at the University of Calgary, and scientific advisor to the Thalidomide Society of Canada. He is possibly also the only national delegate present at the Budapest meeting who uses a wheelchair.

Wolbring says he has not had a particularly good conference. This is not just because of the stares he has to endure from some delegates who may not be used to seeing disabled members of the community in public places.

Nor is it because he had to abandon his wheelchair and crawl four flights of stairs to attend a thematic meeting - ironically on biology and health - which had no access for wheelchair users. Wolbring's complaint is wider. It is what he calls "the marginalization of disabled groups from this conference". Wolbring says he is surprised that a conference of this scale failed to convene a single session on marginalized groups and science - with the exception of gender mainstreaming.

For Wolbring, such an omission represents a wasted opportunity. "Given that an important focus of the biosciences is on health and disability, it is amazing that there are few organizations here who represent these groups."

Wolbring says the 'new social contract for science' cannot afford to ignore the disabled. He says that disabled groups should be involved in the process of deciding the nature and methodology of research, particularly where it has a direct effect on the disabled.

The inclusion of disabled groups in research policy, Wolbring says, is important for two reasons: first, to ensure that the research is relevant and is fulfilling a need; and secondly to ensure that disabled groups are being consulted and involved in all aspects of therapy. .

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