From the News column of the September 2011 issue of Perspectives on History
Making the AHA and the Historical Profession Accessible
Debbie Ann Doyle, September 2011
Between 1 and 5 percent of historians identify themselves as disabled in surveys, a figure that likely excludes many more historians who hesitate to disclose a disability for fear of discrimination or who think of themselves as different, not disabled. Census estimates suggest that between 10 and 20 percent of Americans have a disability. Age, illness, or accident can introduce any member of the profession to the frustrations of looking for an elevator in an inadequately retrofitted building or trying to hear a presenter mumbling into their notes. As Linda Kerber observed when the AHA decided to form a Task Force on Disability in 2006, “Those who articulate the needs of the disabled articulate the needs of us all."
On June 4, 2011, the AHA Council accepted the report of the Task Force on Disability, a joint effort with the Disability History Association, an AHA affiliate. The report reflects three years of study and reflection about how to remove barriers to full participation in the Association and the profession. The report is available on the AHA web site at historians.org/governance/tfd/CouncilReportJune2011.cfm.
The AHA staff is already at work implementing many of the task force recommendations. In the coming months, look for a new disability resource page on the AHA web site, improved accessibility at the annual meeting, and a campaign to add information about accessibility at various archives to the AHA's Archives Wiki.
Council asked members of the task force to stay on for up to two years as an Advisory Committee on Disability. The committee will establish a mentoring program to match graduate students with disabilities with faculty mentors. The committee will also publish information on avoiding discrimination in the hiring process, negotiating accommodations with the university, and other issues of concern to historians with disabilities and those committed to a barrier-free profession.
Staff and the advisory committee will work together on long-term goals identified in the report, such as encouraging journals and university presses to choose electronic submission and review systems that are accessible to scholars with visual impairments, ensuring that the AHA web site is fully accessible, and publishing a pamphlet or edited volume on disability history. We also hope to work with other professional associations on access issues. As a first step, Council endorsed the Society of American Archivists' statement on Best Practices for Working with Archives Researchers with Physical Disabilities.
Advisory Committee members Sandy Sufian and Michael Rembis will publish a longer article on the outcome of the task force's surveys of historians with disabilities and history department chairs and directors of graduate studies in a later issue of Perspectives on History.
Readers who would like to learn more about the Advisory Committee on Disability or who are interested in becoming a mentor or mentee, volunteering to help with implementation, or learning more about disability issues should contact Debbie Doyle, who staffs the Advisory Committee on Disability.
Debbie Ann Doyle is the AHA's coordinator, committees, and convention assistant. This article has been adapted from her post of June 20, 2011 on the AHA's blog, AHA Today.