We know academic conferences matter. When they are affordable and meaningful, they provide opportunities to network, improve our CVs, and allow those of us mired in teaching and bureaucracy to reconnect with our scholarship. But not if you are disabled, in which case the barriers to full participation are many, stubbornly hard to remove, and likely not even visible to conference organizers.
The core problem here is that conferences involve a set of normative activities that most academics take for granted and feel are mandatory to the enterprise. We go to new spaces, whether campuses, hotels, or convention centers, and learn to navigate them quickly in order to find exhibit halls, presentation spaces, food, lodging, and restrooms. We often must move quickly from location to location. In sessions, we sit in rooms often with bad lighting (either very dim or extremely bright). We listen to talks, process information aurally, and look at images. We engage in both planned and impromptu social networking, often over food or drinks, making our way through loud and crowded reception areas.
Here’s my tl;dr
It may take some creativity to make your conference accessible, but the first two steps are easy:
- Make it known that accessibility is a priority.
- Then listen when disabled people tell you what they need.