ADS Year One Retrospective

Comments from the outgoing chair, Lydia Tang, at the Accessibility & Disability Section’s first annual meeting, July 30th, 2020. See the notes from the annual meeting for more information.

Nearly a year ago at SAA, I heard that the Accessibility & Disability Section was approved by the Society of American Archivists’ Council, and today we are together here celebrating our first year!

This section has been the kernel of dreams for several years. When the first Archives Management and Records Management Joint Task Force on Accessibility submitted their initial Best Practices in 2008, they recognized that it wasn’t enough to assemble best practices and put it on a shelf. Accessibility is ever evolving and the concept of disability representation – that people with disabilities are not only your patrons but your peers – was still a “new” concept.

It took 10 years to assemble a Task Force to Revise these best practices, and when I joined in March 2018 as a last-minute scrappy walk-on, I wrote to the co-chairs and said that I wanted to create a section on accessibility. 

After the Best Practices were revised and submitted, I convened a Section Visioning committee to help build the SAA Council proposal which included the following individuals: Gracen Brilmyer, Steven Gentry, Eric Hung, Nicole Joniec, Helice Koffler, Anna Kresmer, Charity Park, Blake Relle, Amy San Antonio, Jamie Seemiller, Lindy Smith, London Stever, Phillip Stone, Chris Tanguay, Lauren White, and Carol Wilson.

The initial petition to establish this section received the minimum 100 signatures in less than 24-hours, by the time of submission at the end of the week to nearly 300 signatures. In this initial planning team, we grappled with the vision, scope, and name of the section:

  • Disability Rights
  • Accessibility of spaces, technologies and services
  • Disability in the historical record
  • Accessibility, inclusion, and empowerment for archivists with disabilities – I don’t think there is another professional LIS organization that actually has disability representation of peers, not only patrons. 
  • It’s all there… or can be.

“Accessibility & Disability” is two sides of a coin and hopefully leaves the door open to address everything. Disability must be represented and embraced and accessibility must be constantly present and continuously innovated. 

It took a some back and forth with Council to make this section happen – there are already a staggering number of existing sections for the organization to sustain. When the word came out that Council had finally approved the section at SAA last year, I was thrilled and… completely overcommitted. I knew that I needed someone with tremendous energy and drive to get this section off the group and the obvious choice to me was Michelle Ganz to be the founding co-chair. As a member of the original 2008 Joint Task Force and someone I knew from past experiences to be tirelessly passionate about disability representation, accessibility, and who knows how to get a job done, it has been my absolute pleasure to share the leadership with her this year. 

The initial steering committee was a 12-person dream team tasked with the daunting role of establishing a section from the ground up. Over the course of the first year the committee was able to: 

  • Establish bylaws
  • Establish and populate a blog
  • Create numerous resource guides including the widely distributed Archivists at Home document and inclusive interviewing and recruitment document
  • Advised Annual meeting planners on providing captioning for section meetings
  • Provided feedback and suggested changes to SAA Education re: webinars and workshops
  • This section has also been an incubator to other great projects spearheaded by members of ADS leadership, such as the Archival Workers Emergency Fund.
  • Laid the administrative foundation to sustain the Section in the future. 

Our efforts were recognized this year by a Council Resolution, which solidly affirms our integral role within the archival profession.

I’d like to thank the following ADS leaders who are rotating off who all contributed to this banner first year: Jade Finlinson, Cheryl Oestreicher, and Sara White.

I’d also like to congratulate and welcome the following new and rising members of the ADS leadership:

Vice Chair: Jessica Chapel

Steering Committee Members: Ingi House, Bridget Malley, Emily Mathay, Zachary Tumlin

 Early Career Member: Brad Ferrier

It has been a profound honor to work with you all to establish this section. In this coming year, I will be stepping back into the role of Immediate Past Chair and Michelle Ganz will continue on as the Chair. 

Congratulations on a great first year! Looking forward to everything ahead!

Lydia Tang

Immediate Past Chair, Accessibility & Disability Section

Meet the Steering Committee

Bridget Malley

What are your goals for the section, and for your participation as a member of the steering commmittee?

I’m quite pleased with the A&D section’s work in our first year! One (ongoing) goal for the future: For us to serve as a central resource for information on how to make physical and digital spaces, records, and professional presentations accessible. I’d love it if “Have you checked out the A&D section’s resources?” becomes a popular suggestion regardless of whether accessibility is the key thing a person’s working on.
As a member of the section, I’d like to help highlight disability in the historic record. It’s something we’ve only touched on briefly thus far. I’m excited to see where we go in the next year of our section’s existence!

Where do you see specific needs for accessibility in the profession?

Let me preface this bit by saying that in many ways, I’m lucky. I’ve lived with severe-to-profound bilateral hearing loss my entire life and have worn hearing aids since I was two years old. Though my hearing has gotten a bit worse over the years, it’s mostly a stable condition—I wake up each day and know that yeah, this is the way things are. I’ve got the tech I need; I know what to ask for in the workplace and in social situations. I don’t have to ‘defend’ my disability because the proof’s visible on my ears.

Other folks face exasperation and exhaustion daily when trying to explain that their conditions may be unpredictable (chronic pain doesn’t exactly clock in and out on a reliable schedule). Others have to explain that their disability is no less real for being invisible. And still others may find themselves newly part of the disability community, unsure of how to navigate their situation and unsure of how it will impact their future. 

So. It feels like a bit of a cop-out answer, but we need more awareness. Conversations about disability and accessibility in the archives (as in: physical institutions, the profession as a whole, and records themselves) need to be ongoing, not occasional.

How would you like to be ‘seen’? Is your disability part of your identity?

As someone who got mainstreamed early on in life (i.e., transitioned from a deaf school to a ‘normal’ school), I sometimes struggle with how disability fits into my identity. It can be difficult to shake the notion that I’m almost normal, that hearing loss is something to be overcome—like thinking there’s a piece of me out of place, instead of going all-in on the notion that this is me. Can’t be anything out of place if that’s who you are, you know?

So yeah! I’d like to be seen as a deaf/HoH LIS professional, whatever that means to me and whatever that means to you. (Hopefully what that means to you is captioning more materials because please. I just want to know what’s going on, lol.)

Bridget Malley (she/her) is a part-time librarian at Seton Hill University and a contract worker with the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium. She received her MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Michelle Ganz

What are your goals for the section, and for your participation as a member of the steering committee?

One of my main goals for the section is to help create a model of sustainable programming and intiatives. My second goal is to ensure that this section is a place where new leaders can develop their skills and gain the confidence to become strong leaders in the SAA, within their institutions, and for disability & accessibility causes wherever they pop up. The section steering committee has been committed to these goals since day one and is baked into everything we do as a leadership group. 

Where do you see specific needs for accessibility in the profession?

The archives profession has long been an advocate for disability & accessibility, but we can always do better. Invisible and temporary disabilities; mental and emotional disabilities; we are coming to see that accessibility and disability are not a niche issues but ones that affect us all. 

How would you like to be ‘seen’? Is your disability part of your identity? 

The idea of being ’seen’ is an interesting one; when I was a child I hid my disability from everyone except teachers that needed to know. It didn’t make me ashamed of my disability, but it did cause a lot of anxiety and made it hard for me to ask for help. I did learn an amazing array of coping techniques and allowed me to create a toolbox of accessibility tools/techniques that are invaluable.  But, as I grew older I realized that while my parents hearts were in the right place, I was at a serious disadvantage when it came to advocating for myself. When I finally got a hearing aid (then added a second crossover aid) I realized that I had a chance to finally be able to ‘visually disclose’ my invisible disability (I’m deaf in my right ear and severely deaf in the left) through easy to see hearing aids. The relief this gave me was immeasurable. And made me realize that being deaf is very much part of who I am. I’m not sure I would be the same person I am today if I was fully hearing, and I like that! Being hard of hearing is just another thing about me like the fact that I wear glasses or that I’m short. 

I have discovered that being disabled has made me a more resilient person during the pandemic. I was already familiar with the tools we’re using to tele-communicate, I have zero problem seeking a workaround when a tool fails to work as advertised, I am highly skilled at ensuring I don’t catch anything (and how to deal with being sick when I do), and I’m just better at dealing with the panic that comes from so many unknowns. I’m excited by the fact that the old excuses for why a disabled person can’t work from home clearly can’t be used as an excuse. The whole world pivoted to finding a way to make it work; disability advocates on the national, local, and personal level can use that to make things better for everyone when we return to the new normal. 

Michelle Ganz (she/her) is the archives director for William McDonough, creating a unique living archive. She received her MLIS from the University of Arizona and her BA from the Ohio State University. She has been a professional archivist for 12 years. Contact Michelle at michelle.ganz42@gmail.com

Jade Finlinson

What are your goals for the section, and for your participation as a member of the steering committee?

As an independent researcher and new archives professional who also relies on a wheelchair for mobility, I am thrilled to be in a position to advocate for changes in this area. I hope to promote discussions about how broadly defined words such as ‘disability’ or ‘accessibility’ can be understood by all of us, for everyone’s benefit. I joined the ADS steering committee with several goals, including the intention of learning from my section colleagues about issues they face and collaborating to create an open forum in which we can seek to understand and challenge barriers to accessibility in our field. We must work together to forward an agenda that considers and defines our specific needs, recognizes those needs as a part of our personhood, urges us to advocate for ourselves as being essential parts of our institutions, and supports us in making our institutions more accessible and accepting. I’m also working on the ADS blog team to provide a place to share knowledge and resources.

My recent experiences working in archives and libraries has given me a fresh perspective on the challenges and joys of being a professional with a complex physical disability. For example, my specific physical needs and limitations as a paraplegic have impacted my experiences in job interviews and professional conversations with new employers regarding lifting, climbing, and other requirements listed on the original posting, as well as on-boarding and training tasks that were not created with inclusion in mind. Additionally, I am acutely attuned to the labor issues presented by the ascendant model of temporary and contract work in archives, especially as a physically disabled individual with limited ability to work traditional hours and therefore more limited prospects for long-term employment. Addressing such issues from a proactive perspective is foremost for me, and I hope my distinctive contributions to the section promote the development of thoughtful strategies to navigate common issues which often are fraught with discomfort and anxiety on all sides.

A personal goal for participating in the steering committee centers on making myself a more open and compassionate colleague when discussing disability and accessibility in the workplace. I look forward to working with fellow archivists to exterminate stigma around invisible disabilities and illnesses that require understanding from colleagues and the public. I hope that my perspective as a physically disabled archivist can be an asset to the section membership during this first stage of development and that my experiences negotiating professional situations and advocating for myself will inspire others to do the same for themselves.

Biography

Jade Finlinson earned her MLIS from UCLA in 2017, and has since worked primarily as an independent researcher, as a contract project archivist, and internship positions while continuing to work independently with nonprofit arts organizations and consulting for smaller archives in the Los Angeles area and in Southeastern Utah. Her years of experience using primary source materials for innovative research projects and creative public programming have informed her independent scholarship in visual culture and historical subjects. She lives with a spinal cord injury as the result of being hit by a drunk driver in 2005. Contact Jade at jadefinlinson@gmail.com and visit jadefinlinson.com for links to archives-related scholarship and art projects.