This event summary briefly discusses who attended, the emergent themes of the discussion, and the outcomes and planned next steps for this area.

Participation

We were pleased that many of the attendees at our fishbowl session had strong, well-considered opinions that they were not afraid to share by sitting in the “fishbowl chairs.” The attendees had diverse backgrounds, expertises and viewpoints, shaping the discussion’s trajectory through the space of topics we planned to discuss.

Themes

The conversation’s themes were emergent based on how what we planned to discuss  intersected with the attendees’ viewpoints. We hope this high-level summary of the conversation can be useful to those interested in this area:

  • We touched briefly on the types of research conducted in the iSchools vs in other types of departments. The great breadth of research done by faculty and students in these departments can contribute to the identity crisis of the iSchool institutions (which go by many names already: library and information science, information science, information systems, school of information, etc.). We discussed how best to expand the accessibility research community that already exists within the iSchools and how to reach out to other communities.
  • The fishbowl attendees seemed to agree on a consensus view that the iSchools are extremely multi-disciplinary, but pursuit of even broader multi-disciplinary alliances may still be necessary, especially for accessibility-oriented research. For example, in accessibility, collaborations with rehabilitation science, health policy, health science, and other medical domains should be more strongly pursued. Granting agencies are already emphasizing research that combines all of these elements. We talked about the apparent disconnect between the computer science aspects and the health science aspects of developing technology for health informatics. The SIGHEALTH community may be a good place in which to forge some of these alliances, especially as long as the big researchers in health informatics are not affiliated with iSchools. Beyond health-related fields, we also discussed how iSchools’ research can link with ICT4D (information and communication technologies for development) to improve cross-cultural accessibility issues and with architecture to improve accessibility issues with physical spaces. Due to the multi-disciplinarity of the iSchools and their focus on user-centered research, we saw the potential for the iSchools to be the bridge, but we must forge the links.
  • A dominant theme in the conversation was the holistic view of user-centered research in the iSchools, a view that considers all of the characteristics of the target user(s) in research rather than a narrow slice that seems to most directly pertain to one’s research. We discussed how the tenets of “universal design” relate to accessibility research, going beyond just designing for people with specific disabilities. This holistic view is also shared in research in the health and rehabilitation science domains, focusing on broadly understanding people. One important aspect of a holistic approach to research involves considering users’ privacy concerns, especially if they may have invisible disabilities. The stigmas associated with being identified as having a disability has an impact on research as well. We also discussed the interrelationships among studying people with disabilities and other sub-groups with specific characteristics such as senior citizens or children. Many of the same challenges experienced by people with disabilities also occur for people without disabilities. Expanding the application of disability research to the larger population is an important step toward broadening the impact of one’s research and can help with identity crises within the iSchools.
  • A challenge facing iSchools researchers that we discussed was the dissemination of research outcomes in a way that can contribute to solving real-world problems. There seems to be a consistent gap between practice and research (a problem in many research fields). “Knowledge translation” and “implementation science” are areas of research specifically devoted to developing successful methods of bringing research developments to fruition in practice. These researchers often work with one specific research domain, for example, rehabilitation science, and face challenges in having their research be accepted as “real research.” The consensus seemed to be that this work is critical and important, and needed to be valued more highly in the research community. Seeking out collaborations with researchers engaged in this practice was discussed as a positive activity for fundamental researchers, but budget problems can contribute to challenges finding the time and resources for such activities. We briefly touched on the open-source movement and how that can help the dissemination of research that produces software, but it seemed clear that this approach was not widely pursued by researchers in the discussion.
  • We also discussed the best ways to engage in curricular development within the iSchools to ensure these important themes are part of education and student experiences at the iSchools. For example, we discussed how best to integrate service learning in curricula to ensure that students recognize the importance of dissemination and real-world impact. We also discussed methods of broadening multi-disciplinary engagement within the iSchools umbrella by cross-listing courses in multiple departments that may have a stake in accessibility-related research. At McMaster University, there are general courses taught in which different sections focus on populations with different disabilities (i.e., design for information seeking behaviors of (a) people with visual impairments or (b) people with cognitive disabilities). This approach may have pros and cons and the compartmentalizing approach may be a challenge for teaching universal design.

Outcomes and Next Steps

As the 90-minute fishbowl was winding down, it was clear how much more there still remains to discuss! The organizers see this event as the kicking-off point for future events of this kind and a broadening of our efforts to improve the collaborations and relationships between the many fields who have stakeholders interested in accessibility-oriented research, be it information access, access to improvements made by research, technology access, and many more.

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  • About the Event

    This purpose of this fishbowl session is to encourage discussion and collaboration within the iSchools accessibility community, and to identify and build connections between “traditional” accessibility research for people with disabilities and researchers in other topic areas who address related concerns.
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