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ACS Comment: Promoting National Disability Employment Awareness Month

by Michelle Cummings, chair, ACS Committee on Chemists with Disabilities

October 8, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 36


Michelle Cummings.
Credit: Courtesy of Michelle Cummings
Michelle Cummings

The American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemists with Disabilities (CWD) adopted a new vision and mission during its 2022 strategic planning retreat. Our new vision is “making chemistry accessible to all,” and our mission is “accessibility, inclusion, and respect for persons with disabilities in the chemistry enterprise.”

CWD also streamlined its goals, last updated in 2019, to make them more concise and action-oriented. We now have three: to promote and facilitate awareness, inclusion, and respect for persons with disabilities in the chemistry enterprise; to support internal and external alliances to increase visibility and impact; and to develop, advocate for, and communicate the most effective accessibility resources for persons with disabilities in the chemistry enterprise.

At the ACS Fall 2022 meeting, CWD focused on creating visibility and impact through three presidential workshops. The first workshop discussed covering and reverse covering—looking at what it is like to feel that you need to mask your disability or to feel that you should accept more accommodation than you need so that others can feel comfortable. The second dealt with invisible disabilities and challenges posed by neurodivergence, traumatic brain injuries, and bipolar disorder. The third workshop explored accommodations that have been put in place for people who are blind or have low vision.

Learning about disabilities and accommodations, as well as gaining the awareness to identify systemic bias, is a marathon, not a sprint. My commitment to allyship grows deeper as I become more involved in the disability community. This year I have learned a substantial amount about neurodiversity, including hearing firsthand the experiences of many strong and resilient neurodivergent professionals in the workforce. These conversations have led me to examine the baseline skills required for successful job performance. A common practice during recruitment is to determine how an applicant’s skills correlate to an existing job. The focus should instead be on how we can design a role to match an individual’s strengths. Doing so would unleash the exceptional abilities of every person, whether or not they are neurodivergent. Enabling remote work is an example of how viewing things through this lens could help tap potential. Some people are most productive when they work at home. In explaining a preference for remote work, one person described part of their neurodivergent experience as feeling like every sound is at maximum volume when they work in an open plan office.

Learning about disabilities and accommodations, as well as gaining the awareness to identify systemic bias, is a marathon, not a sprint.

As part of CWD’s ongoing work toward our goal to improve communication of the most effective accessibility resources, we recently updated the manual Teaching Chemistry to Students with Disabilities. The fifth edition will be available on the committee’s website shortly.

A focus of CWD for the next few years will be on making ACS resources more accessible to people with disabilities. We will be developing accessible PowerPoint slides and PDFs and sharing best meeting practices, such as providing a microphone to everyone who speaks in meetings. We will also be working to improve the accessibility of ACS online publications and electronic resources for screen readers used by people who are blind or have low vision. I encourage everyone to pull together to help CWD deliver the changes necessary to improve the accessibility of ACS resources for the benefit of all.

CWD continues to recognize the need for all chemical professionals to have role models. The CWD Travel Award encourages the participation of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs with disabilities by supporting them in making presentations at ACS national meetings. Our committee is also involved with reviewing the nominations for the WCC Overcoming Challenges Award. In addition, CWD is piloting a matching funds grant of up to $1,000 to help cover accommodation costs at regional meetings. Once this regional pilot is complete, it is expected that more funds will be made available for local and divisional activities. Through the CWD-sponsored ChemLuminary Award, the committee also continues to recognize outstanding efforts of ACS local sections and divisions that support CWD’s mission.

Our committee is passionate and excited about chemistry, and its members continue to use our unique skills to drive inclusivity throughout ACS membership and beyond. We are an enthusiastic group that enjoys personal interaction; feel free to reach out via our email address to find out more information or share your journey.

CWD invites all people with disabilities who are working in the chemical sciences or who aspire to study or work in them to contact us. We also welcome the interest and support of all educators, employers, and colleagues. For more information, please call the ACS Office of Society Services, 800-227-5558, or send an email to

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



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