“People with disabilities are facing unique challenges and problems during this pandemic that have affected their access to health care and social networks,” Chakraborty said. | Photo courtesy UTEP

UTEP Geospatial Scholar receives National Fellowship for COVID-19 Study

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many people with disabilities throughout the United States. A researcher at The University of Texas at El Paso will use geospatial software and cutting-edge techniques to learn the extent of their exposure.

Jayajit Chakraborty, Ph.D., a professor in UTEP’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and director of UTEP’s Socio-Environmental and Geospatial Analysis Lab, will investigate whether people with disabilities, particularly socially disadvantaged people with disabilities, are overrepresented in communities with higher COVID-19 prevalence.

The study is funded by a National Geospatial Fellowship for Advancing COVID-19 Research and Education from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Geospatial Software Institute (GSI).

Geospatial research is based on mapping and analysis of human societies and environments using various modern technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS) and remote sensing.

Chakraborty is one of the 16 fellows selected through a national competition organized by the NSF GSI Conceptualization Project, in partnership with several other national organizations. These fellows come from varied cultural, institutional and professional backgrounds, representing many different disciplinary areas.

Their research will add to public understanding of the impacts of COVID-19 on different communities and vulnerable populations.

Chakraborty’s project extends his previous research on unequal exposure to environmental hazards for people with disabilities that has been published in Disability & Health Journal, Social Science & Medicine, and The Professional Geographer.

“People with disabilities are facing unique challenges and problems during this pandemic that have affected their access to health care and social networks,” Chakraborty said.

“These negative impacts are often amplified when disability status intersects with other social disadvantages related to race, class, gender and age. Exposure to COVID-19 for people with disabilities is an understudied research topic that has significant implications for health equity, social justice and public policy.”

The other fellows will focus their study on mobility patterns, access to health care and food systems, racial disparities, and other impacts of this pandemic. Each researcher will use geospatial software and advanced capabilities in cyber infrastructure and data science to conduct their investigation.

The Cyber Geographic Information Systems Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will provide the technical and cyberinfrastructure support.

“We are extremely grateful for NSF’s support to fund this talented group of researchers, whose work is so diverse yet complementary,” said Shaowen Wang, the principal investigator of the NSF GSI Conceptualization Project and founding director of the CyberGIS Center.

“Geospatial data and tools have enormous potential for helping us address the challenges of COVID-19, and these 16 fellows have exactly the right qualifications and experience,” said Michael Goodchild, Ph.D., chair of the NSF project advisory committee and professor emeritus in geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “I’m very excited to see what they are able to achieve.”