I believe today I will have a piece at Chronicle Vitae on accessibility and academic conferences. When we don’t make our events accessible, when we don’t broadcast that we are open to discussions about accessibility, we’re making powerful statements about our values. As an analogy, here’s an outstanding piece about the ways that live music venues exclude people with disabilities.
Several years ago, I attended an outdoor music festival with a friend. I have a physical disability, cerebral palsy, that makes it difficult for me to walk long distances, and so we pulled up near the entrance to ask a parking attendant where the handicapped parking was located. Nowhere, we were told: There were no spots. Seeing as we were stopped near several rows of vehicles, we asked if we could just park there, as it was close to the front gate. That wasn’t an option, either: We could, but we ran the risk of being towed–and considering the festival was in an out-of-the-way location, in a state in which neither of us lived, that didn’t seem like a good option either. Luckily, because I’m a journalist, I had a contact at the festival that I could call. This person proceeded to find us, chew out the parking attendant for not allocating spots for handicapped parking–which was illegal, he was reminded–and led us to an area that was safe and close enough for me to get in and out with no problems.
While this was an extreme case of discrimination, it wasn’t the only time my disability unexpectedly became an issue when I was going to see live music. There was the parking lot attendant at another venue who asked me and my husband, “Do youneed to use the spot?” when we asked about parking in the handicapped space we knew was near a door. (Um, why else would we be asking to park there?) Another time at an old theater, an employee looked skeptically at me when I asked to use an elevator to get up to the top level where my seats were, as if I didn’t necessarily need to. (Again, why else would I be asking?) And while attending SXSW some years ago, I had a bar actually tell my group we had to vacate the table and chairs at which we were sitting, as they had to be removed for the late-night shows that were scheduled to begin–which would’ve been fine had there been other chairs in the venue, but there weren’t. (Needless to say, we left and went elsewhere.) And these are just a few of the things I’ve experienced, as someone who’s been an avid concert-goer for nearly two decades.
Zaleski continues to talk through her experiences, the messages they send, and why and how to change it. Most of what she says could apply to other kinds of gatherings as well.