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January 23, 2014

CRAB: One researcher’s experience

Faculty member Allen Lewis of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology recently presented to the Community Research Advisory Board (CRAB) for the first time and attests to the board’s value. He’s already scheduled a review for another project and is considering joining the board himself.

Lewis, who has been at Pitt for three years, learned about the group through casual conversation with CRAB’s co-chair Mario Browne.

His first presentation sought CRAB’s input on a proposal to test whether hip-hop music could be used to deliver information about services to young African-American men who have disabilities.

Lewis, a health services researcher, works in the area of disability disparity and the impact of services. It’s well documented that cultural factors can contribute to disability disparities, he told the board as he outlined his proposal to harness the popularity of hip-hop music to reach African-American men ages 18-25 by embedding messages about disability services into a concert.

In his presentation, he explained his plan to test whether a performance by hip-hop duo 4Wheel City, whose rappers use wheelchairs, could increase awareness of available disability services and ultimately help this underserved group.

“This particular project was out there,” Lewis explained, adding that while he had confidence in the concept, he wanted others’ feedback to vet the idea.

Among his fears: that a more traditional reviewer might view hip-hop as not substantial or scientific enough and reject his proposal out of hand.

CRAB members quelled his concern by noting that hip-hop isn’t new, most people would take it seriously, and the genre would appeal to the targeted group. They suggested that if he were still worried, he could simply avoid using the term “hip-hop.”

They prompted him to consider his target group: Should he include women? Older men, who also enjoy hip-hop? Should he limit participants to people with mobility disabilities? To those recently disabled, as opposed to those who grew up with someone to navigate disability services for them? What about veterans, whose disabilities may stem from their service?

Did he want to compare breakout groups, or narrowly focus and risk difficulty in recruiting enough participants?

Following the discussion, he received a summary encapsulating the board’s suggestions — helpful, he said, because although he took notes, he was concentrating more on the dialog.

Lewis, who plans to submit his research proposal this month, credits CRAB members’ input with strengthening his proposal. “It pushed me to think farther down the road to include in the research a follow-up on who actually took steps. Not just awareness but measure whether folks have actually done something different,” he said.

Lewis hopes the board’s visibility will rise. “Pitt has so many researchers who could benefit,” he said. “It’s a smorgasbord of people and viewpoints,” touting the value of cross-disciplinary, cross-professional input.

“More brains are better than my one brain,” he said, adding that documenting CRAB’s input, including specific details on the board’s suggestions, will strengthen his proposal.

“As academics we’re supposed to be able to entertain differences of opinion. If everyone agrees with you, you’re probably not getting the true picture,” he said.

“I could have discussion with a group like that every day,” he said. “To have a successful interaction, you can’t be locked into one idea. You must be open to feedback.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow