Kathleen Bogart doesn’t take communication for granted. Even as a child, she was aware that people responded to her differently. She was born with Moebius Syndrome, a condition that causes facial paralysis and difficulty in moving eyes from side to side. She had to work to make herself understood.
In college, Bogart found that Moebius had been largely ignored by science. So she set out to explore the consequences of facial paralysis that affect nearly 130,000 Americans annually. She is opening new ground in the psychology of disabilities and the impacts on social marginalization and emotional health.
Terra: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I succeeded in getting a National Institutes of Health grant while I was still a graduate student. The full title is a ‘Pre-Doctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity.’ I thought the chances of getting this funded would be very low because there was no precedent at NIH to study facial paralysis and psychosocial consequences. I was given the run-around by several institutes because they didn’t think it fit within their area. Well, that happens with gaps in research that no one has addressed. I thought it was especially important to apply and point out that there is no place for this.
“When I applied to the National Institute on Dental and Craniofacial Research, it was funded on the first try. So now there’s a precedent. I created a precedent. I’m glad I persisted.”
Terra: How have gender and diversity influenced your career?
“When I think about diversity, my experience as a person with disabilities overshadows my experience of being female. I’m young, so there’s also a generational effect. I happen to be lucky in that things are getting better. When I entered academia, I benefited from the activism and politicking over the years.
“Disability can be conceptualized as a minority group because people with disability share the same marginalization as ethnic and racial minorities, such as health disparities or the stigma of prejudice. Very little work has been done on people with disabilities, even though it’s a very similar phenomenon. People with disabilities is the largest minority group in the U.S., about 20 percent of the population.
“Having facial paralysis makes me unique in the research field, because there’s no one else who has facial paralysis and is also studying it.”