Highlighting Accessibility Issues through #AccessibleAnthChat

On March 9, the American Anthropological Association hosted a successful #AccessibleAnthChat on Twitter, focusing on the issue of fieldwork accessibility. Disabled and nondisabled anthropologists joined the chat to discuss five questions related to the accessibility/inaccessibility of fieldwork as well as the importance of fieldwork to members of our discipline. Disabled anthropologists shared their personal experiences of how fieldwork remained inaccessible to them or how anthropology’s approach to fieldwork made it seem “that anthropology wasn’t done by ‘people like me’” (@redrocketpanda).

Based on the Twitter chat, below is a list of items that would improve fieldwork accessibility for people with all types of disabilities, starting with more tangible supports and moving to more abstract supports.

  • Accessible housing (@nasukaren)
  • Tangible, concrete items to support tactile learning (@debaucherie)
  • Ability to bring service animals and emotional support animals (@nasukaren and @RebeccaELong)
  • Financial support for access to personal care assistants and interpreters (@nasukaren and @redrocketpanda)
  • Open discussion about mental health issues related to or resulting from fieldwork, particularly from senior anthropologists (@profgerbere and @AllisonBTaylor)
  • Reconsideration of what counts as “real” fieldwork, and support for remote and digital fieldwork as well as flexible fieldwork that welcomes minimal hour days (@ca_sarge, @nasukaren, and @RebeccaELong)
  • Support a more collaborative and less solitary approach to fieldwork (@ca_sarge and @profgerbere)
  • Supportive and creative faculty and mentors “who think outside the box” (@GinzuFoot)
  • Listening to disabled people when they share their concerns and access needs(@Hanelizqui)
  • More disabled anthropologists (@redpocketpanda)

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does highlight a number of supports anthropology needs to sincerely incorporate when encouraging anyone to undertake fieldwork. However, in one tweet, @nasukaren pointedly identified that improved accessibility on its own may not be enough: “One thing every anthro department needs to ask themselves is—Where are the disabled undergrad students and are they being equally encouraged to go to grad school? Where are the disabled grad students? Where are the disabled faculty?”

Intentionally increasing accessibility in anthropology will ensure more disabled anthropologists can actively participate in the field. Doing so will also hopefully mean that the answers to @nasukaren’s questions are no longer a novelty, in which each anthropological space has a token disabled person, but instead a new normality, so that disabled people, people with disabilities, and people with varying access needs are unquestioningly present members of our community.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our March #AccessibleAnthChat and who provided these powerful insights. We encourage everyone, disabled and nondisabled, to join us for future #AccessibleAnthChats!

This essay was originally published in the March/April 2020 print issue of Anthropology News.

Nell Koneczny is the AAA accessibility and meetings coordinator.

Cite as: Koneczny, Nell. 2020. “Highlighting Accessibility Issues Through #AccessibleAnthChat” Anthropology News website, July 7, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1456

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