Working Group on Accessibility and Disability (WGAD)

Mission: We strive to make astronomy accessible to all by elevating the voices of persons with disabilities to identify and remove barriers to participation.

Goals: Astronomy exists in the context of a society based in ableism. WGAD will work to:

  • Identify, document, and eliminate the barriers to access (including access to information) that impact disabled astronomers and students;
  • Actively address the intersections of ableism with racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and classism;
  • Increase accessibility for disabled astronomers and students;
  • Support the current professional astronomy community to bring people with disabilities into the workforce;
  • Recognize disability by teaching disability history, specifically including the disability history of astronomy;
  • Work to discourage the erasure of disability in astronomy;
  • Promoting knowledge of the roots of ableism and the effects in our classrooms and workplaces to change it;
  • Change the culture within astronomy to remove the stigma associated with disability and to value accessibility as a human right;
  • Promote the development and use of access tools and software; and
  • Build community among disabled astronomers and students.

Methods: WGAD will maintain a website through which we will provide accessibility resources for the community, post annual reports, and share meeting agenda/minutes summaries. The site also facilitates communication with the coordinating committee via input form ( WGAD is participating in developing an intersectional AAS site visit program and providing guidelines for accessibility at the departmental level. Sets of recommendations will be prepared and furnished to the AAS leadership regarding meeting, publication, and database accessibility, all critical aspects of participation in astronomy research and professional engagement. WGAD will pursue campaigns, via online writings, town halls, and meet-and-greets, to increase awareness in the community regarding the exclusionary effects of inaccessibility and to erase the stigma so often associated with disability, neuroatypicality, and mental illness. WGAD will recognize members of the community and our own working group for their work on accessibility and inclusion with annual awards and certificates of appreciation.

History: WGAD was proposed in the Fall of 2015 and its formation approved by the Council in January of 2016.

Co-chairs and coordinating committee: Two co-chairs; 5-10 total members including co-chairs; membership-nominated; Council approved. Co-chair duties include scheduling telecons, setting meeting agenda, providing oversight and guidance in reaching goals set by the working group. The coordinating committee broadly serves as a communication channel for the working group to the Council. In keeping with our goal of broad, inclusive leadership, WGAD prioritizes having two co-chairs rather than one chair1.

Liaisons: Toward our goal of centering the intersectional identities of astronomers, WGAD will appoint one liaison per AAS inclusion working group or committee (CSWA, CSMA, C-SGMA). In order to facilitate communication with the AAS governance, we will also appoint one Council liaison2. Both types of position are WGAD membership-nominated, though the Council liaison may be selected of the Council membership by the working group and invited to attend our meetings. Any member of WGAD can serve as liaison to an inclusion group/committee, not just coordinating committee members. Duties include attending meetings of both WGAD and the inclusion group or Council, facilitating communication between both.

Working group members: drawn from AAS community, appointed by the coordinating committee. Contributing members of the Access Astronomy google group are recognized by the committee as working group members, should they choose to identify themselves as such3. Working group members are encouraged to attend telecons and participate in email list discussions. Much of our work is crowd-sourced and done via shared Google Docs, which anyone willing may participate in editing.

Term: Co-chairs, coordinating committee members, and liaisons serve 3 year terms, January to January. They may be re-appointed if working group votes accordingly. There is no term limit on working group membership.

Charge: WGAD is tasked with promoting inclusion of and equity of opportunity for disabled astronomers at all career stages. Ableism is discrimination in favor of able-bodied or neurotypical people; it is an entire system of thinking and doing that hurts disabled people and is a form of structural oppression. Disability is defined as any mental, cognitive, or physical condition that, due to society’s structure, results in a significant barrier to engaging with society. Disabilities may be invisible or visible, and diagnosed or undiagnosed. Disablement occurs when biological and neurological realities collide with society and culture; it is not a problem located in someone’s mind or body, but in society.

1. Pending the strategic assembly’s approach post-new governance vote, we will amend this document and discuss with the AAS leadership whether one co-chair or both will serve on the Assembly.

2. After the new AAS governance structure is in place, there will not be a Council liaison. Co-chairs (one or both) will serve in this capacity as members of the Assembly.

3. Former AAS by-laws, Article VIII, 2a. stated: “The steering committee shall decide the subsequent structure and organization of the Working Group.” There is currently no provision for this in the newly voted-in by-laws but may be in future amendments.

Approved by the AAS Board 7 October, 2017.