It is an unfortunate fact that people with disabilities are often underrepresented in workplaces including institutions of higher education. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2020, 82% of people with disabilities were unemployed in that year—an increase from 81% in 2019. Inside Higher Ed suggests that disability representation in white-collar professions may be even less than in the job market generally.
These statistics are significant because, as an underrepresented group in the workplace, people with disabilities are more likely to be ignored or misunderstood in academic settings. As a librarian or practitioner advocating for accessibility, you may need to seek out opportunities to provide people with disabilities a seat at the table as you are constructing scholarly publishing initiatives.
The following example illustrates one attempt to address the issue of underrepresentation. In 2019, the Canadian government passed Accessible Canada, an act that intends to make Canadian public services accessible to people with disabilities. Specifically, the act aims to remove barriers to access from areas under federal jurisdiction by January 1, 2040.
Notably, Accessible Canada adopted “Nothing without Us” as a guiding principle for pursuing accessibility reform. According to this principle, legislation and provision of accessibility support is carried out in consultation and collaboration with the disability community. This strategy is discussed in the TBS Canada video called, “The Government of Canada Launches Its First Ever Accessibility Strategy.”
Disability rights advocates in Canada applaud the country’s choice to position people with disabilities as experts in the creation and provision of accessible services. One example of this principle at work is the office of Accessibility, Accommodation, and Adaptive Computer Technology, which employs a team of developers and instructors, many of whom have some type of disability. By cultivating a diverse team, this office is able to address accessibility barriers in creative ways, drawing both from personal experience and technical expertise.
The “nothing about us without us” ethos can also guide your efforts to provide accessibility instruction and training to faculty and students at your institution. Spend time learning from people with disabilities before teaching others. Better yet, look for ways of diversifying your own team—and support accessibility work already happening in disability communities around you. Don’t expect people with disabilities to do accessibility work for you but look for ways to base your instruction in the lived experiences of the disability community.