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Committee on Chemists with Disabilities promotes disability awareness

by Michelle Cummings, chair, ACS Committee on Chemists with Disabilities
October 1, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 36


A photo of Michelle Cummings.
Credit: Courtesy of Michelle Cummings
Michelle Cummings

As chair of the American Chemical Society Committee on Chemists with Disabilities (CWD), I am excited about the impact that our committee is having on the culture within and outside the society. ACS is recognized as a leader among professional societies in promoting and supporting persons with disabilities (PWD).

As a researcher in industry, I was introduced to CWD through an opportunity to host a summer intern from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in 2016. That summer was the start of my journey promoting employment of PWD in the STEM field. Since then, I have been active in CWD, and I became its chair in 2021. I am also involved in recruiting PWD for internships as well as full-time employment in industry.

Our committee members come to ACS with their unique experiences and perspectives. All have a passion to promote equity of PWD in the chemistry enterprise. We have been working to complete the goals that were set forth in our strategic plan, which was initiated in 2019. These goals are aligned with promoting awareness of the capabilities of PWD in the chemical sciences, using internal and external alliances to increase CWD’s visibility and impact, and serving as a resource for laboratory accessibility and accommodations. An update on progress was recently presented virtually at ACS Fall 2021 highlighting the results of the committee’s hard work.

One of the recent CWD achievements is a webinar titled “Service Dogs in Your Chemistry Lab.” Presenters discuss accommodations, the definition of service dogs, training, and the relationship of service dogs to owners, as well as legislation. Examples of service dogs enabling employment of PWD are becoming more common as awareness increases and the number of champions advocating this accommodation increases. A replay is available through ACS Webinars at

Accommodations for persons needing vision, hearing, or mobility assistance have a positive impact on everyone at a minimal amount of expense.

Asking organizations to incorporate successful accommodations for PWD can sometimes seem arduous, but in practice, most accommodations can be seamlessly implemented. From my personal experience, accommodations for persons needing vision, hearing, or mobility assistance have a positive impact on everyone at a minimal amount of expense. I am more effective when a larger font in a presentation makes it easier to read, closed captioning ensures that I hear accurately, and an automatic opening door enables me to pass through when my hands are full. Most people have used these accommodations at one point or another. In the online CWD manual “Teaching Chemistry to Students with Disabilities,” numerous other potential accommodations are recommended that can be applied even to STEM professionals.

The committee continues to recognize the need for chemical professionals with disabilities to have role models and a community that understands life’s celebrations and challenges. To increase visibility and impact, members of the committee have narrated their personal experiences navigating life with a disability as well as experiences from members that are allies of PWD. These are available by video at Watch for additional video postings in the future, including recordings of the ACS Division of Professional Relations symposium “Working Chemists with Disabilities” at the ACS Spring 2022 meeting in San Diego.

CWD continues to recognize excellence within ACS through two award programs. The committee’s ChemLuminary Award acknowledges the outstanding efforts of a local section or division that supports the mission of CWD “to promote educational and professional opportunities in the chemical sciences and in fields requiring knowledge of chemistry for people with disabilities.” The award also recognizes events that enhance the learning of chemistry through the efforts of educators, advocates, and families of people with disabilities. The CWD Travel Award is available to encourage and support the participation of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs with disabilities who will present a talk or poster at an ACS national meeting.

Our committee is focusing on both internal and external collaborations to gather and disseminate resources. Internally, we are coordinating with local sections, divisions, regional meetings, and other national committees. If your ACS group would like assistance with accommodations at one of your meetings, please email CWD. We are providing virtual consultation and financial support to teams implementing accommodations at events. Externally, we are developing partnerships with other professional organizations to create and share best practices in promoting and supporting PWD in the chemical sciences.

Our members are passionate and excited about chemistry, and we use our unique skill sets to drive inclusivity throughout the society membership and beyond. We are an enthusiastic group that enjoys personal interactions; feel free to email us to find out more information or share your journey.

CWD invites all individuals with disabilities working or aspiring to study or work in the chemical sciences to contact the committee. We welcome the interest and support of all educators, employers, and colleagues. For more information, please call the 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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