Celebrating National Engineer's Week

Published February 20, 2023

February 20-26 marks National Engineers Week. The week of activities, primarily promoted by supporting organization DiscoverE, looks to celebrate engineers and the work they do. The 2022 theme, “Reimagining the Possible”, looks to focus on just how large an impact engineers have on society, at least according to their website.

Engineering possibilities

“Engineers create new possibilities all the time. From green buildings to fuel-efficient cars to life-saving vaccines, engineers work together to develop new technologies, products and opportunities that change how we live. Let’s inspire the next generation by celebrating all the ways engineers turn dreams into reality by reimagining what seems impossible to become the Possible!”

Now, inspiration – and its many pitfalls – is something that the disability community is acutely aware of, but how do engineers interact with accessibility?

Let’s start with the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). Their public database of ethics review cases involves one example related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) where the engineer was in conflict with a state regulator about proposed plans and their accessibility compliance. Then, if we look at what states are doing, we see places like Colorado’s Department of Transportation providing a webpage that responds to what engineers need to know about the ADA before proceeding with some of their state accessibility projects. Right down to the business level, some companies have gone so far as to share information about accessibility requirements through their own channels. Yamabe & Horn Engineering Inc., a Fresno-based firm, has done just that.

A lot of the information that is publicly available about engineering and its intersection with accessibility focuses on the physical environment. While this is fair enough – one only has to look at our ADA case database to see just how many cases could have been avoided with a little more attention paid to physical access in the first place – engineering (as DisoverE notes in their promotional material) also involves chemical engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and a host of disciplines. Why does this matter? Well, when there’s intense debate about ethics of CRISPR gene editing – with many in the disability community drawing a link between the concept and eugenics, as this Scientific American piece does – all while researchers have noted repeatedly that CRISPR “has been largely benefitted by chemical engineering” − forces us to ask how disability and access play into the profession as a whole.

For one, like other areas of the STEM acronym (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), disability representation is lagging behind. According to a recent report published by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, while there was less data available than for women and visual minorities, just 7.1% of doctoral recipients in engineering identified with a disability – the lowest of the fields studied. In addition, according to the report – which is published every two years – approximately 9.5% of scientists and engineers with an undergraduate degree said they were not working due to chronic illness or disability.

While there may be more to the data, what is clear is that engineers, like many professions tasked with building the worlds around us, play a critical role in accessibility, so please join us in celebrating National Engineer's Week. 

For more information on the activities being held can be found on DiscoverE’s website.

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