Disability awareness event aims to make Wikipedia more inclusive

By Lauren Hamilton

Community members gathered to edit Wikipedia articles relating to disabilities in an event Thursday that kicked off Disability Awareness Month.

The Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, hosted by assistant English professor Melanie Kill in partnership with Wikimedia DC, took place in Edward St. John Teaching and Learning Center.

Kill, who is also a member of the President’s Commission for Disability Issues, organized the Wikipedia initiative to empower others to share their knowledge and help improve the online encyclopedia. 

“Wikipedia is not our enemy,” Kill said. “It’s a tool and it’s something that can be improved.”

Ariel Cetrone, the institutional partnerships manager at Wikimedia DC, underscored the importance of encouraging people, especially underrepresented groups, to make changes to Wikipedia.

“We want people to know that they don’t have to sit back and wait for somebody else to make the changes, they can really be that change,” Cetrone said.

After participants learned the technical aspects of creating and modifying Wikipedia articles, they had the choice to improve articles from a curated list of topics pertaining to disabilities or create and edit their own articles relating to disability.

Cetrone said that the purpose of the event was to provide participants with the tools to continue editing Wikipedia at a later time if they so choose.

“We hope that people leave [the event] feeling empowered,” Cetrone said. “We hope that they leave knowing that Wikipedia isn’t this thing that’s untouchable, it’s this thing we want people to engage with.”

Kill said that an obstacle to improving knowledge repositories like Wikipedia is that many underrepresented groups do not feel welcome to contribute. She shared that issues like harassment that occur among contributors on Wikipedia reinforce this feeling of exclusion.

Ben Spangenberg, the national leadership program director at Respect Ability, a non-profit organization aimed at fighting stigma and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, said that a key to spreading disability awareness begins with attending events like the Edit-a-thon.

“Being able to learn how to edit Wikipedia and being able to do educational events like this will only strengthen our community,” Spangenberg said. “Being able to spread the word about disability through things like Wikipedia and disability culture is really important.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story misspelled Ariel Cetrone’s last name as Citrone. The article has been updated.

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