in Harlan Lane’s book The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community. It is an often-overlooked historical fact that in 1880 the International
Congress on Education of the Deaf essentially banned sign language from
schools for the deaf worldwide in favor
of the oral method, which stressed only
lip-reading and speech. At that time
there was no realization that sign language was a natural language with its
own temporal/spatial grammar that
was efficient and complete in its visual
modality. Those who banned sign language were not deaf, but believed they
knew what was best for deaf people by
promoting their integration into the
My parents were very successful as
teachers of deaf children and in most
other aspects of life. They were bilingual, fluent in American Sign Language and English. They were able to
lip-read and their speech was distorted, but they were highly educated with
a remarkable command of English in
written form. Nonetheless, they always
felt the sting of paternalism when others treated them as if they couldn’t take
care of themselves or were not qualified
for jobs held by hearing people who
they knew were less qualified. Future
columns will explore people with disabilities in computing in more depth,
but in this first column my intent is to
provide readers with an understanding
of background informing my perspective on broadening participation.
u.S. Ph.D. demographics by gender, race and ethnicity, and disability.
Reasons for Broadening
There are a number of reasons why
broadening participation is important
to the computing field, the most significant of which include numbers, social
justice, and quality.
Numbers. In spite of several downturns in the economy since the invention of computers and the dot-com
bust in the early 2000s the demand for
computer professionals worldwide has
continued to gro w, sometimes extremely rapidly and other times more slowly,
but always growing. The computing
field cannot continue to rely on getting
the vast majority of its high-tech workers from a few demographic groups. As
an example, the America Competes Act
of 2007 has provisions and authorizes
spending to help increase the number
of women and minorities in science,
technology, engineering, and math
Social Justice. An important principle in a democratic society is equality,
that is, everyone enjoys the same rights
and is obligated by the same responsibilities. The vast public education system in the U.S. attempts to provide as
many children as possible with a basic
education to help them become contributors to the social well being and
to learn their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Through laws enacted
by legislatures and interpretations of
laws by courts, the U.S. adheres to the
principle of equal opportunity whereby
citizens should not be discriminated
against because of gender, minority status, or disability. Preventing discrimination does not guarantee proportional participation, but it does at
least level the playing field.
There is well-documented evidence
of implicit bias against women and minorities in academia.
1, 2 Those of us in
computer science are typically highly
rational; perhaps having the belief
that our reasoning power makes us
immune to bias. Our reasoning power
which is a much
only masks our biases with a cloak of
rationalization. Everyone has biases
depending on their own upbringing
and circumstances. Acting on those
biases consciously or unconsciously
may be discrimination, some of which
could break anti-discrimination laws.
The Project Implicit (https://implicit.
harvard.edu/implicit) is a good starting
point to learn about implicit bias and
to take a test that demonstrates your
own implicit biases.
Quality. The strongest reason for
broadening participation is quality.
The argument is similar for why diversity is important to quality. William W.
Wulf, the former president of the American Academy of Engineers, explained
this very well: “I believe that engineering is a highly creative profession. Research tells us that creativity does not
spring from nothing; it is grounded in
our life experiences, and hence limited
by those experiences. Lacking diversity
on an engineering team, we limit the
set of solutions that will be considered
and we may not find the best, the
Better solutions are more likely to
emerge if there is a diversity of points of
view contributing to the solutions. This
is one of the reasons most major companies try to diversify their work forces:
it gives them a competitive advantage.
Broadening participation helps our
field because it brings in more people
with a variety of backgrounds, and at
the same time levels the playing field
for those who are traditionally underrepresented.
It is important to understand the current circumstances with broadening
participation, particularly at the end