Lessons Learned from our Call on Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

It’s not enough to be invited to the party; we want you to be asked to dance!

Our first Community Discussion on Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility had such an impact on my work. Between the two calls we had 31 participants. I was so happy to see so many people on the calls, and appreciate everyone for their time, honesty, and perspective. We kicked off the call by reviewing The Carpentries Code of Conduct and had everyone share something they’re proud of. Then we did a little jargon busting. If we were going to discuss our experiences around diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, it was important that we all had a shared understanding of what these terms meant.


ac·ces·si·bil·i·ty … the usability of a product, service, environment, or facility by people with the widest range of capabilities.

Our goal is to design and implement programs and processes that offer multiple avenues for access and participation.

di·ver·si·ty … individual or social-group differences that can be engaged in the service of learning.

We see diversity as the goal. Equity, inclusion, and accessibility is how we get there.

eq·ui·ty … creating access to and participation in programs to close participation gaps in our community.

Equality is about sameness. It promotes justice by giving everyone the same thing, but it only works if everyone starts from the same place. Equity is about fairness. It’s about making sure people have access to the same opportunities. Sometimes our differences or history can create barriers to participation, so we must first achieve equity before we can enjoy equality.

in·clu·sion
…active, intentional, and ongoing engagement of diverse people and communities.

It’s not enough to be invited to the party; we want you to be asked to dance!


After jargon busting I spoke about the importance of equity and inclusion work, especially as it relates to what we do in The Carpentries. I won’t write about that in this post, but I encourage you to check out my slides and the YouTube video if you haven’t already. The writing prompts and small group discussion exercises that followed underscored the significance of this call. We spent some time thinking about the following prompts and documented our responses in the Etherpad:

  • Describe a barrier that has inhibited you from participating in:
    …Teaching/organising workshops
    …Attending/participating in workshops
    …Contributing to our lessons
    …Communicating with/engaging with the broader Carpentries community
  • Describe a barrier that has prevented you from using our:
    …Workshop template
    …Lesson material
    …Pre/Post Workshop Surveys
    …Communication Channels
  • Describe the most convenient avenues to give and receive Carpentries related information.

Afterwards, participants were placed in breakout groups randomly to explore the following:

  • How is the term “under-served community” described in your community?
  • What is one thing you have learned by participating with The Carpentries?
  • What is one thing you are still confused about or wish you knew as a Carpentries community member?

Below I summarise what I learned from both the writing prompts and small group discussions.

Barriers to Participation in our Community
Our community is global, and though we are trying to put resources behind building local communities, many of the opportunities to participate in widespread initiatives are announced and discussed through Zoom, Slack, and TopicBox. This presents a barrier for those who may not have reliable internet connections. Additionally, many community members cannot access workshops if there is no member organisation nearby or they are unable to travel. Teaching, learning, helping, and organising workshops requires a certain level of confidence, not only in the material, but in being able to troubleshoot problems that may arise in workshops (ex. Installation issues). Many community members need resources to boost their confidence in teaching as well.

During the community discussion I learned some community members perceive that our contributing guidelines and style guide are written for users already familiar with coding and GitHub. This could be what hinders some community members from contributing to our lessons. Lastly, community members expressed concerns around etiquette for contacting and communicating with subcommittees and new community members.

Barriers Stemming from our Infrastructure
Many of our community members would call themselves novices when it comes to coding. These community members find our workshop template both challenging and overwhelming. Additionally, those new to Git and gh-pages often feel as if they’re doing something wrong! How can we make customising our workshop pages both fun, and less confusing? Finding the lessons can be difficult at times as well, and this could be why some instructors stick to one lesson stack (say, Software Carpentry) rather than teaching from the others (Data Carpentry and Library Carpentry).

Small Group Discussions: Lessons Learned
The small group discussions were extremely eye opening for me. We often hear concerns from community members about improving our international relations, and what I learned from this call is we must begin with a shared understanding of what it means to be underrepresented in one nation compared to another. The most striking fact that I learned is around how the community describes the terms “underserved”, “underrepresented” and “under-resourced”. Some community members had never heard of or considered these terms, while others were able to describe how they define these terms. For example, in the Pacific Northwest (USA), underrepresented describes being racially diverse, but does not always include individuals with disabilities. In some Southern European countries, the term underrepresented does not exist. As an organization, before we set goals around access and equity, we must first understand local dynamics around what it means to be underrepresented.

I also learned that, despite our challenges, this community brings great joy and a sense of worth and accomplishment to many people around the world. This is why doing this work continues to be my top priority.

This community discussion is a part of my work this quarter on developing an Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Roadmap that appreciates where we are and maps out where we want to go, and how we’ll get there. There are many challenging opportunities (‘chopportunities’) to tackle, and our community has great ideas for where we want to be, but we recognize that we cannot address everything at once. A roadmap helps us build a plan together.

This roadmap is still being developed through the lessons learned from this call, and other things I’ve been doing and am doing such as interviewing diversity and inclusion leaders in open science, reviewing our post-workshop survey open ended responses, and liaising with several of The Carpentries committees and task forces. We need more stories, more knowledge, and more ideas from you. Get involved by filing an issue in the equity-and-inclusion repository on GitHub. You can also join the #accessibility Slack channel, send an email to team@carpentries.org, or get in touch with me directly.

Dialogue & Discussion