Closing the gap on health disparities

Susan Magasi; Researcher of the Year;

“In an ideal world, there would be no need for my field of research, because everyone would have access to quality care,” says Susan Magasi. ­(Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

Social Sciences
Rising Star

For more than 10 years, Susan Magasi has been building a significant body of research documenting and exploring health care disparities for people with disabilities.

“I am an occupational therapist by training,” said Magasi, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences. “As a practicing clinician, I was always intrigued by understanding what happens next for my clients who, by accident or by birth, struggled in environments that were not always welcoming to their differences and disabilities.”

Magasi wants to eliminate the gap between people who have access to quality care and people who do not.

“In an ideal world, there would be no need for my field of research, because everyone would have access to quality care,” Magasi said.

Until then, Magasi is committed to bringing attention to the pressing issues of health care access, quality and outcomes for men and women with disabilities through community-engaged participatory research. This type of research, she said, helps ensure clinical partners align with disability community members on the important issues and interventions that are practical and sustainable in the real world.

Since joining UIC in 2013, Magasi has been the principal investigator on five federal and foundation research grants from organizations such as the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. This work has focused on activating strengths within the disability community to encourage peer support and facilitate information sharing. The goal, Magasi said, is to help people breakdown common barriers to care.

Last fall, Magasi put research into action by launching ScreenABLE Saturday, a community health event in partnership with the Chicago Cancer Health Equality Collaboration to promote and provide accessible screening mammograms to disabled women.

“For many of the women who attended, it was the first time they had had a mammogram,” Magasi said.

“This was an exciting project because allowed us to take what we know from research and translate that into direct community impact.”

Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar, professor and head of occupational therapy, nominated Magasi for the Rising Star Researcher Award.

“Dr. Magasi has quickly distinguished herself as a rising star and exemplary model of engage-scholar,” Suarez-Balcazar said. “Her work has had a tremendous impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities.”

“I am delighted and humbled to know that UIC values this kind community-based research. For me, it validates the benefit of working with an institution like UIC that honors social justice and collaboration with underserved and underrepresented communities,” Magasi said.