Using technology to enhance diversity and inclusivity in neuroscience and neuroimaging

Lucina Uddin, PhD Organizer
University of California Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA 
United States
Kangjoo Lee Co Organizer
Yale University
New Haven, CT 
United States
Rosanna Olsen, PhD Co Organizer
Rotman Research Institute
Toronto, Ontario 
Monday, Jul 24: 3:00 PM - 4:15 PM
Room: 513 
OHBM initially launched a Diversity and Gender Task Force in 2017 to address the growing need to recognize and address multiple forms of inequity with respect to gender balance and geographical representation on the Council. Since 2017, this initiative has worked towards tackling a range of issues surrounding underrepresentation at OHBM. The task force has grown and evolved into a Diversity and Inclusivity Committee (DIC) that meets regularly to ensure that the needs of the diverse OHBM community are adequately represented at all levels of the organization and in all of its activities. As neuroscientists, the OHBM community increasingly recognizes that some groups are historically marginalized in ways that ultimately hinder both social and scientific progress. One way to combat these issues is to expose them and openly discuss ways to address them. This fifth Diversity Symposium follows up on the success of our inaugural symposium in 2019 focusing on gender biases in academia, the second virtual symposium in 2020 focusing on neuroscience and the LGBTQ community, the third virtual symposium in 2021 on the topic of racial bias in neuroscience, and the fourth symposium in 2022 on the Asian perspective on the effects of social, cultural and language barriers on inclusivity at OHBM. The speakers for this year were selected for their expertise in technological solutions for increasing accessibility for individuals with visual and auditory impairment, solutions for improving inclusivity in neuroimaging studies that involve collection of EEG data, and mobile neuroimaging technologies for imaging of remote and rural populations. This symposium will achieve the desired learning outcome of illuminating how barriers to inclusivity can potentially be overcome with the use of creative technological solutions that members of the OHBM community can readily implement.


1. Familiarize the audience with technological solutions for increasing accessibility for individuals with visual and auditory impairments
2. Introduce the audience to novel technologies for collecting EEG and fNIRS data from individuals with course, dense, and curly hair
3. Discuss mobile MRI technologies suitable for collecting data from rural populations  

Target Audience

The target audience is the OHBM membership at large, but especially those interested in learning about novel uses of technology to enhance diversity in neuroscience.  


Mind that patient, trainee or staff - if he/she cannot hear or speak: Pro-active solutions in clinics, labs and classrooms via auto-captions

How would you deal with patients inside an MRI scanner such as an aging one with hearing loss who cannot use a hearing aid or one with ALS or Parkinson’s who cannot speak clearly? Likewise, how would you make your lab, seminars, workshops, scanner facility, classrooms and conferences accessible for anyone who has hearing loss, or is neurodivergent, or does not speak your native language? Fortunately, the answer is literally right on your fingertips thanks to the advent of automatic speech recognition (ASR) apps for speech-to-text (S2T) transcriptions of any speech signal received by a smartphone, tablet or computer. Usage for actual and hypothetical scenarios will be described along with a few live demonstrations. Key to effective usage are i) clear speech, ii) audibility, and iii) stable internet connectivity.  


J. Tilak Ratnanather, DPhil, Center for Imaging Science and Institute for Computational Medicine, Johns Hopkins University
Biomedical Engineering
Baltimore, MD 
United States

It’s not what we see, it’s who we see: The power of inclusive technologies and digital practices to elevate equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility for blind and low vision leaders in science

Although a majority of the brain is devoted to visual processing, neuroimaging reveals that blind individuals exhibit cortical plasticity, where the otherwise unused visual cortex is recruited during non-visual tasks, such as when reading braille. Science has long demonstrated that much of what we view as inherently visual in nature can just as effectively be re-imagined and achieved through alternative senses. Despite this, leaders with disabilities (including those who are blind or who have low vision) remain significantly under-represented within the science ecosystem. Barriers encountered by researchers and trainees with disabilities include those related to accessibility (such as inaccessible journal platforms and data analysis software) and those related to ableism (such as the tendency to portray people with disabilities as patients and recipients of care). This presentation will highlight key themes related to accessibility and inclusion for researchers and trainees with vision impairments in the science ecosystem, focusing on the role of inclusive technologies and digital practices based upon universal design and tangible actions that sighted faculty, researchers and practitioners can take to enhance accessibility and inclusion within classrooms, clinics and research. 


Natalina Martiniello, Concordia University Montreal, Quebec 
United States

Racially and phenotypically inclusive EEG and fNIRS

Typical EEG systems, the standard of care for neurological monitoring and a popular modality for human psychological and neurosciences, do not work well for individuals with the coarse, dense, and curly hair common in the Black population (Etienne et al., 2020; IEEE EMBC). With more than 1 billion individuals of African descent across the globe, this not only compromises neurological care for a significant portion of the population, but also excludes these groups from basic neuroscience research studies. Our team developed the first solution to this problem by creating Sèvo Systems, a simple yet effective set of devices that leverage the strength of braided hair to improve scalp contact during brain recordings in individuals with coarse, dense, and curly hair. In this talk, we will briefly describe the Sevo system and outline our ongoing assessments of its effectiveness in both research and clinical settings. Our work is the first step towards mitigating phenotypic biases embedded in this popular technology that may lead to misunderstandings of brain science and the exclusion of marginalized groups in human neuroscience and psychology research. We will also speak to other examples of phenotypic bias in neurotechnologies that we are seeking to improve at Carnegie Mellon including functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and pulse oximetry. We will outline ways that neuroscientists can join the cause and use equitable and inclusive methodologies based on published work (Webb et al, 2022; Nature Neuro) and our personal experiences in preparing different hair textures for neuroscience research. 


Jasmine Kwasa, Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA 
United States

Mobile MRI technology for imaging of rural and remote populations

In many countries, clinical and scientific neuroimaging facilities are primarily available only in metropolitan areas. In sparsely populated countries like Australia, or countries with low socioeconomic capacity to invest in significant imaging infrastructure such as countries in Africa, this leads to significant disparities in access to clinical diagnostic imaging and opportunity to participate in scientific research. For example, a single government health service in South Australia, which spans 1 million square kilometres with 470,000 individuals, there are only 12 centres with neuroimaging (CT) facilities. This contributes to increased health costs to specific populations (e.g., remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people), and systematic biases in participant pools in scientific research. Another example is the low number of MRI scanners in the countries of the West African sub-region. In this region, the ratio of available MRI scanners per million population is a mere 0.3 in Nigeria, and 0.48 in Ghana, with countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia having 0 scanners [1].

Portable point of care medical devices therefore will play a key role in the way that people receive medical imaging in the future. Low-cost point of care MRI scanners is one such technology that will expand the accessibility of MRI scans and provide timely diagnosis for people in remote areas. These scanners employ low (<0.2T) magnetic field strength, which provides a signal to noise ratio that is approximately 2% of that of 3T MRI scanners. As such, significant technical work is required to bring the image quality to a standard commensurate for clinical and scientific utility. Artificial intelligence (AI) based image reconstruction and post-processing methods represent a significant opportunity to address this problem.

In this presentation, I will provide an introduction to portable MRI technology, and the potential of AI post-processing to optimise image quality and SNR of low field MR images. These advances represent an important opportunity to address some of the systematic disparities in health care and research, faced by people living in regions with poor access to imaging facilities.


Parisa Zakavi, Monash University Melbourne, Victoria