Diversity Month: Breaking Barriers
About the Project
Chemistry should be for everyone, which includes accessibility and operability of analytical instrumentation, such as software but also hardware (e.g. mass spectrometers …). Within this project, we aim at evaluating support strategies for promoting accessibility and operability of disabled scientists to analytical instrumentation.
The primary objective of the project to improve accessibility to analytical instrumentation (both related to software and hardware) will be evaluated by the actual stakeholders with disabilities as the direct target group. Their judgement will be used to evaluate on the success of the project directly.
With current instrumental setups and lab infrastructure, ranging from simple benchtop instruments to more sophisticated analytical equipment, accessibility is often limited or access to critical parts of instrumentation are difficult to impossible to reach considering people having disabilities.
For more insights the team of the Chair of General and Analytical Chemistry sat down and answered questions for us.
Johanna, can you tell us what the project is about and how it evolved?
I got more involved into activities related to fostering diversity and inclusion a few years ago through my engagement into IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) and started to regularly update myself on what is done in the field, particularly related to teaching and analytical chemistry, as my core fields of expertise. In 2021, I came across the Inclusion & Diversity Fund of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and decided to submit a project dedicated to fostering inclusive access to analytical instrumentation. Even though the funding sum is very limited and hardly compensating for the expenses, the project broadened all of our minds tremendously and also raised awareness in our community.
Michael, how did you conceptualize the project/questionnaire?
For the project, a questionnaire was created and based on two fundamental questions. The first main question was to investigate, which forms of disabilities are an issue in the regular work environment of an analytical chemist. This was not as trivial as it sounds, because in order to account for all possible incapabilities, the questionnaire had to be formulated in an unbiased and inclusive way to encompass all possible conscious and unconscious handicaps. The second main question explored possible solutions to overcome obstacles in the context of analytical laboratory and machinery (e.g. mass spectrometry). Thereby, the questionnaire was phrased in a way to generate solid feedback for certain aspects and to create unconventional, creative ideas and suggestions to deal with problems regarding disabilities in these surroundings.
Shaun, what were the most eye-opening/surprising findings/outcomes of the project for you and the team?
The most eye-opening aspect of the project was realizing how limited my knowledge was (compared to what I believed) about various barriers in laboratory environments. While such barriers are something I often consider, there were numerous times throughout the project I found myself saying “I never thought of that”. Truly, it is difficult to be aware of every possible barrier without first-hand experience of such situations, therefore hearing the stories from people with such first-hand experience has given fantastic insight that can be shared to create awareness of the issues.
Thomas, which were the biggest challenges throughout the project?
The major starting challenge was to realize the barriers yourself in order to be able to ask the right questions as barriers are not equally perceived or not even seen as barriers. The second biggest challenge was to motivate participants to be ready to look closely even though they think they do not experience barriers.
Stefan, how can a lab be exclusive or in other words, what can be done to make work in a lab environment more inclusive?
Current laboratory environments and instrumental setups rarely consider the needs of persons with disabilities, e.g., critical safety infrastructure or parts of an instrument cannot be reached, software cannot be changed in format and presentation, and warning signals and alarms cannot be recognized. To promote inclusive laboratory environments, it is imperative to consider three essential aspects: (1) active commitment of laboratory managers, users, and designers, as well as instrument manufacturers towards the identification of barriers, (2) development of supporting strategies to improve the physical accessibility of the laboratory infrastructure and the operability of analytical instrumentation, and (3) implementation of the developed strategies during laboratory construction/refurbishment and instrument development/design.