Though I had never edited Wikipedia myself before joining Wiki Education, I believed whole-heartedly in its mission of making knowledge free and accessible to all and was thrilled to be part of a team attempting to bridge the gap between Wikipedia and academia. I had come from academia myself, having completed a Ph.D. in History from UC Berkeley in 2012, and I was excited to bring my own expertise and skills to Wikipedia. Right away, I began learning the ins and outs of editing and had soon racked up edits on talk pages as Helaine (Wiki Ed). I slowly but surely became a member of the Wikipedia community, but still I had not made any content contributions in the article main space. I could speak about notability with the best of them and had shepherded thousands of students and instructors through their Wikipedia assignments, but I had yet to take those first baby steps myself.
Finally, in September of this year, I decided to take that leap. There was no better way to do so than with one of our own Wiki Scholars courses. I enrolled as a student in a course specifically devoted to improving content around COVID-19 led by my wonderful colleague Ian Ramjohn.
I chose to write a topic near and dear to my heart: how the pandemic has affected people with disabilities. I am blind myself, and while I have fared relatively well during this tumultuous period, I wanted to make sure the world had access to information about how COVID has impacted an already vulnerable community.
As User:Hblumen I got to work, scouring the internet for scant information on how the pandemic has affected people with disabilities, and finally encountered both the challenges and the heights new editors face when contributing to Wikipedia for the first time. As a blind editor, in particular, I learned that the VisualEditor is not at all accessible with screen readers and that references are tricky as well. I was glad that I had learned wikicode all those years ago when I joined the team. I also learned that, while I had not contributed article content to Wikipedia, I already knew a great deal and mostly just needed the motivation and confidence boost to make those first edits.
By the end of the course, I was incredibly proud to have written Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with disabilities. I was both dismayed but unsurprised to find a paucity of information on the topic, but I’m hopeful that my article sparks others to think about how COVID has affected populations already at high risk for a host of physical, emotional, and socioeconomic disadvantages.
Thank you to Ian and to my fellow Wiki Scholar participants for helping this would-be Wikipedian take those final critical steps. For years I have read comments from students and instructors on the pride and satisfaction that comes with seeing your edits live on Wikipedia, and now I truly understand how gratifying it is to contribute to public knowledge.
Interested in taking a course like the one Helaine took? Visit learn.wikiedu.org to see our current course offerings.