Being accessible and discussing disabilities and health issues

In the early 2000s, I was in graduate school earning my PhD in the field of microscopy. Optical microscopy images are rampant with red and green fluorescent labels. It embarrasses me to confess that I didn’t give much thought to the color choices until a decade later, when I was working with a colleague who was red-green color blind. He was trained in cellular and molecular biology and was constantly faced with images and microarray data that also relied on red and green fluorescent labels. He was resigned to the fact that he had to work harder than people without the condition to understand images that didn’t have helpful captions.

Unfortunately, some groups of people have to do more than others to stay on the same playing field with the rest of the population. But if we want everyone to have a fair chance of success, we need to create equitable opportunities to succeed. No one should have to work more or not be able to work at all because of a disability, disorder, or other health condition.

That is why the ACS Inclusivity Style Guide has a section on accessibility. Accessibility ensures people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, or visual conditions can have equal opportunity to perceive, comprehend, and use content. The accompanying tip sheet is reproduced here.

The other tip sheet that’s included in this edition of C&EN is about disabilities, disorders, and other health issues. We should be intentional when describing a person who has a disability, disease, or another condition. It’s a very human fault to immediately have biased perceptions of a person because of their health. The tip sheet, for example, advises people to use neutral language when describing a condition and not suggest the person is to be pitied.

These tip sheets are part of a six-part series in C&EN. To see the ACS Inclusivity Style Guide in its entirety, go to We welcome your feedback on the guide through emails to [email protected]. If you have suggestions for other types of resources that will help you create an inclusive and welcoming environment for you and others around you, email the American Chemical Society Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect at [email protected].

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