Working with Professional Organizations

Making Professional Organizations More Inclusive for People with Disabilities: A Case Study

By Jonathan Lazar, Towson University

It’s important to make courses accessible to people with disabilities, but we also need to consider future employment. Professional organizations and conferences play a major part in career development, including

  • Career development through conference attendance and presentation 
  • Consumption and production of digital resources including blogs, websites, and digital libraries
  • Mentorship programs, networking, and job searches
  • Informal socializing among peers

We need to make sure all of these things, and the professional organizations running them, are inclusive of people with disabilities. There are three potential areas to focus on:

  • physical conference accessibility including accessible conference facilities, accessible hotel rooms, and sign language interpretation
  • digital resource accessibility including the paper submission and reviewing
  • professional organization accessibility including mentorship programs and officer elections

The Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI) has been working to improve accessibility. Discussion on the topic began in January 2011 during a long-term planning meeting for the SIGCHI organization. Tasks were divided into two areas: physical accessibility and digital accessibility, since different people in different roles usually have responsibility for each

Physical accessibility included designing a checklist for conference accessibility, site walkthroughs of potential conference sites, adding someone as the physical accessibility chair to the conference committee, and posting information on the website about the physical accessibility of conference locations and hotels. 

Planning for digital accessibility has been more complicated. We had professional evaluations done to ensure accessibility of our conference web site and mobile app. We have also worked on publication to ensure the submission and review processes as well as accepted papers are accessible. Ultimately, we designed five specific guidelines for pdf accessibility. Easy to understand guidelines were developed and posted on the website. An automated check based on these guidelines was run on accepted papers and results were sent to authors. Making the pdf accessible was encouraged, but not required.

If you’d like to make your professional organization more accessible, consider the following: 

  • Reach out to the ACM Special Interest Group on Accessibility (SIGACCESS) and AccessComputing.
  • Add feedback loops, in both directions. 
  • Include people with disabilities in your decision-making processes
  • Be clear about prioritization and communicate the rationale. 
  • Recognize and explicitly address and communicate trade-offs.

Advancing Access and Inclusion in the STEM Workforce through Professional Society Partnerships 

By Chris Atchison, University of Cincinnati  

According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, “A key goal of federal government recruitment policies is to attain a workforce that draws from all segments of society and that leverages diversity to deliver the best public service.” However, STEM disciplines are still lacking diversity, particularly when it comes to individuals with disabilities. Opportunities for STEM careers are growing; these are careers where individuals can earn good salaries.

Students with disabilities are often discouraged from pursuing geoscience disciplines because of the significant requirement of field-based study. The image of a geoscientist evokes field research in remote and rugged areas, which are often not accessible for students with mobility or sensory impairments. The reality is that there are geoscientists with disabilities and ways to ensure that students with disabilities can participate in fieldwork.

Through promoting a broad and inclusive pathway, we can help to increase the participation of students with disabilities. This could include programs that foster interest among elementary school students, outreach activities aligned with career and educational opportunities for middle school and high school students, and financial assistance to support postsecondary education. 

I have been working to create change through my organization, the International Association for Geoscience Diversity (IAGD). The IAGD mission is to improve access to the geosciences for individuals with disabilities while promoting communities of research, instruction and student support.  The IAGD community

  • Celebrates the diverse abilities of all geoscientists while fostering student engagement in geoscience career pathways.
  • Provides faculty professional development in instructional access and inclusion.
  • Unifies and promote efforts of collaboration in research and instructional best practices.
  • Develops a community of resources for faculty and student support.
  • Advances knowledge of access and accommodation within the geosciences through scientific research.