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Comment: Making chemistry accessible to all

by Michelle Cummings, chair, ACS Committee on Chemists with Disabilities
October 30, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 36


Image of Michelle Cummings, chair of the ACS Committee on Chemists with Disabilities.
Credit: Courtesy of Michelle Cummings
Michelle Cummings

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. In the gallery, there are several pieces by modern artists that illustrate loss, grief, and hardship in recent US history, including the impact of racial conflicts and COVID-19. Through their art, each artist conveyed to me their sadness, frustration, and anger about their personal experiences. I found myself thinking about how that relates to people with disabilities and their feelings about lack of accessibility to so many things in society. Their emotions about their need to fight to unlock tools that help bring equity parallel the struggles expressed by the artists in the Renwick Gallery. But it doesn’t need to be like this; society can choose a different path to make the world more accessible.

The tools for an inclusive future

The vision of the American Chemical Society Committee on Chemists with Disabilities (CWD) is “making chemistry accessible to all.” Technology has played and will continue to play a significant role as we move toward all people with disabilities being able to participate fully in the chemistry enterprise. Many institutions and companies have not implemented or embraced technologies that can improve equity within their workforce. A key purpose of CWD is to communicate with scientific practitioners about the most effective accessibility technologies and resources for chemistry and chemists.


CWD recently released the fifth edition of the e-bookTeaching Chemistry to Students with Disabilities, which is downloadable in PDF format from and is searchable. The resource is much more than just a list of accessibility technologies—it is a 225-page comprehensive manual intended to help start a conversation between a person with a disability and their instructor or employer. The e-book presents some universal design principles that organizations can implement to start moving in the right direction—but the key message is that accommodation conversations must remain specific and intentional for every individual. Each chapter of the e-book includes contact information for its authors, whom readers can contact for consultation.

Members of CWD are passionate about chemistry and excited to use our unique skill sets to drive inclusivity throughout ACS membership and beyond.

Improving access to ACS resources

A current goal of CWD is to make ACS journals accessible to all. In the online versions of articles in C&EN and many other magazines, images typically have alternative text (alt text) that describes what is shown. Screen readers read this text aloud. This valuable technology is used by blind and low-vision readers. But did you know that alt text is not the norm for scientific journal articles? Consequently, many journal articles contain visual representations of data and structures that blind or low-vision colleagues cannot access. CWD is working with ACS to rectify this issue and is reaching out to other scientific journals to have them do the same.

CWD also collaborates closely with ACS governance to make other ACS resources more accessible for people with disabilities. Efforts include an accessible presentation guide with information on how to hold inclusive meetings, such as always using microphones, arranging sign-language interpreters, and enabling captions for virtual meetings. Presentation templates will include information about the best font type, font size, and color of slides to use, as well as instructions on adding alt text and other similar information to provide a baseline of universal accessibility.

Showing respect through awards

CWD continues to recognize the need for chemistry professionals with disabilities to have role models and build a community that understands their life celebrations and challenges. The Chemists with Disabilities Travel Award aims to encourage and support undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars with disabilities in presenting talks or posters at an ACS spring or fall meeting. CWD also offers a matching-funds grant of up to $1,000 for accommodation at regional and local ACS events. To apply for the grant, contact

Additionally, CWD is involved in reviewing nominations for the Women Chemists Committee Overcoming Challenges Award. The committee continues to recognize excellence within ACS through its Chemists with Disabilities Inclusion Award, one of the ChemLuminary Awards. This award acknowledges the outstanding efforts of a local section or division that supports the mission of CWD: “accessibility, inclusion, and respect for persons with disabilities in the chemistry enterprise.”

Members of CWD are passionate about chemistry and excited to use our unique skill sets to drive inclusivity throughout ACS membership and beyond. We invite all individuals with disabilities working or aspiring to study or work in the chemical sciences to contact us and share their experiences and ask about our activities. Educators, employers, and colleagues may seek support from us or share their own best practices. To contact us, please call the Office of Society Services at 800-227-5558 or email

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



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