Task Force on Disability 2010

Prepared by Debbie Ann Doyle

Current membership: Representing the AHA, Jeffery Cook (North Greenville Univ.), Leisa Meyer (Coll. of William & Mary), Michael Rembis (Univ. of Notre Dame); Representing the Disability History Association, Sandra Sufian (Univ. of Illinois at Chicago, chair).

The three-year term of the joint AHA and Disability History Association (DHA) task force ends in June 2011. The task force is charged with gathering information about the concerns of historians with disabilities and proposing concrete, practical solutions for as many of them as possible.

2010 was a difficult year for the task force, with the death of Professional Division vice president David Weber, who represented the AHA on the task force, and DHA representative Paul Longmore. Jacqueline Jones will replace Weber representing the AHA on the task force in 2011. The DHA has not appointed anyone to replace Mr. Longmore. AHA representative David Ulbrich resigned in fall 2009 after taking a new job. In April 2010 Council appointed Jeffrey Cook and Michael Rembis to replace him, after approving the addition of a fourth AHA member to represent early career professionals.

The major focus of the task force over the past year has been to survey historians with disabilities (31 responses), graduate students with disabilities (26 responses), and department chairs and directors of graduate studies (36 responses). The survey of department chairs and directors of graduate studies attempted to determine their attitudes toward students and colleagues with disabilities and assess their level of knowledge about disability services available at their institutions. The other two surveys were designed to identify the concerns of current and future historians with disabilities. A question asked what the AHA can do to address those concerns. Overwhelmingly, the most common answer was “increase awareness of disability issues among history departments and programs.”

The task force is also designing a pilot program to match graduate students with disabilities to faculty mentors.

Catherine Kudlick, who previously represented the DHA on the task force, contacted Ms. Sufian in the fall to suggest that the report address the accessibility of digital resources, specifically the electronic submission systems being adopted by many journals, which are not compatible with screen readers used by scholars with visual impairments. Members are considering addressing this issue in the final report.

The task force had a teleconference on December 2, 2010, to begin analyzing the survey results. They held an open forum at the 2011 annual meeting in Boston on Friday, January 7, 2011, to discuss survey results and get feedback on plans for the report. The open forum was followed by a tribute to the life and work of Paul Longmore. Members have outlined the final report and assigned a section to each member. They hope to prepare the first draft in February 2011 so that the final document will be ready by June 2011.