Episode 9 of Accessagogy Transcript

Episode 9-Accessible Conferences

0-0:12 Orthotonics Accessible as Gravity plays and fades out

0:13 Hello and welcome to Accessagogy a podcast about accessibility and pedagogy. I’m your host Ann Gagné and this podcast is recorded on treaty 13 on the traditional land of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

0:28 Welcome to episode nine!  In this episode, recorded deep in conference season, I am going to talk about accessible conference and event planning and how this connects to the kind of accessible pedagogy that we want to be modelling in our learning spaces, on-campus and virtually.

0:48 So conference season used to be something that I looked forward to in my days in graduate school. It was an opportunity to see folk that I didn’t get to see before and though extremely exhausting I would come home with ideas, things to explore, more things to read, more things to research. But it also came with a lot of stress, trying to find the money to attend, deciding which conferences I couldn’t attend because of my lack of funding, finding strategies to support my travel anxiety (often unsuccessfully). I started thinking, is this worth it? Why are we doing this? There has to be a better way to do this.

1:35 I would reflect on hub models which could support geographical locations for folk and have a way to connect those hubs virtually. Then the pandemic happened and it showed us that, yes, in fact there are more accessible ways of doing this and if it was planned well most people could attend in different ways. The problem is many were not planned well, and it turned folk off of virtual conferences, and the on site conferences that are happening this summer, are very often even more inaccessible than they were 10 years ago.

2:14 Some declare that they’re hybrid, but their hybrid is done in such an inaccessible way that it might as well not be hybrid at all. So in today’s episode of Accessagogy, I am going to note a few things that conference organizers should think about when they’re planning their conferences to support accessibility and inclusion. And I think this is really important because these are the same kinds of things that instructors should think about in terms of accessible pedagogy in the classroom.

2:45 But I also important because it directly reflects the kinds of messaging it gives undergraduate and graduate students who may be interested in working in academic spaces. Inaccessible conferences remind folk how much gatekeeping happens in higher education. So my suggestions here will help support a more critical engagement with that, with the goal of you know what conferences are supposed to be which is removing the barriers and so that means that more people could attend conferences and we can expand how we build community.

3:23 So I have six aspects that I will talk about today, and again with a reminder, with most things that I talk about on this podcast, this is not a comprehensive list, but this is a place to start in your thinking and in your planning.

3:38 So number one, location. When deciding on a location for your conference, think about the accessibility of the location itself. Are you planning to have your conference it in an all cobble stone city? And I am laughing because that’s actually a thing. What about accessible transit? What does accessible transit look like there? How much would travel cost? How about the weather? What’s the weather like when you are planning your conference?

4:11 And the same thing goes for virtual conferences. What kind of platform are you planning to use? Have you vetted that platform for accessibility? I mean really vetted it, not just the spin that the marketing team gave you.

4:26 And this brings me to I guess 1.5 or number 1.5 which is please, break the pattern. Stop booking ridiculously expensive conference hotels five years in advance with very bad information technology infrastructure so doing hybrid becomes almost impossible. Also stop using this as an excuse to do better; you have to break the pattern when it comes to having conferences at hotels instead of maybe having them on campuses where the tech may be better and there is a proximity to residences and lower cost lodging for folk.

5:03 Also stop using platforms for these conferences based purely on the fact that such and such an academic association used it previously. That is not vetting. That is assuming that the other association did the vetting, and I guarantee that they did not. So pro tip, if the accessibility of the platform is provided by an overlay, that means that they did not plan accessibility from the start and they are now trying to retrofit a solution. This solution will often not work for disabled folk.

5:41 So this takes me to number two which is, please if you want to do hybrid, which is great for accessibility in terms of supporting more people who would want to engage in a modality that is more accessible to them,  then you need to have the things in place to do hybrid right. So many people really dislike hybrid because hybrid has not been well designed.

6:04 So what does that mean? We need is microphones in the on site room set up in a way that those that are virtual will be able to hear and be supported by captioning. We need virtual folk who also have access to the same documents and resources that are shared with the on site participants. This means maybe using a QR code to link to a place where there’s a slide deck and resources for example. There needs to be two way engagement when it comes to questions; those online need to be able to answer and ask the questions just like those on site.  A dedicated chat moderator can help with this logistically depending on the tech and the room set up for your conference.  

6:51 Number three, when organizing the sessions planning for breaks is really important. It doesn’t matter if you are doing on site or virtual or hybrid there needs to be breaks, and breaks longer than the time to move from one room to another, or to open a new link or a new Zoom or a new Teams room.   

7:09 Provide both virtual and on site spaces for folk to either be in community or to be in quiet depending on their needs. Conferences can be very overwhelming and some people may need someone else to help them work through ideas, or they may need a quiet space just to reflect. These break spaces are very important and support so many from an accessibility point of view, so plan those in.

7:36 Number four, model accessibility by providing clear accessible presentation instructions, and the opportunity to provide more supports if there’s something that the presenter would like in order to make their presentation more accessible. You could have a team dedicated to this, depending on how big your conference or association is. As well you can model this by making sure that all the documents, all of the promotions, and all of the communications about the conference are accessible.

8:06 Social media, and I’m rolling my eyes as I’m saying this,  social media is the worst offender for this. Often folk volunteer to do the social media for the conference and they don’t have accessibility awareness when it comes to accessible social media and needs. So they’ll post images with no alt text, they’ll have links to inaccessible documents. So for accessible conference presentations you could refer to episode 5 of Accessagogy and I will have future episode where I’m going to talk about accessible social media and how that relates to some of the things that you can do in your class and pedagogy.

8:44 Number five, have a dedicated accessibility fund that’ll help support things like ASL, LSQ, CART, but also help to pay, if you have need to have disabled, and you should have disabled folk review what you are planning from a decision making process onwards. Do not decide on a thing and then expect accessibility consultants to come in and fix it. (clears throat sound). Notice how I am clearing my throat here, because this is important. You need to have them there from the start before you decide on a venue, before you decide a platform.

9:20 And finally, number six, innovate don’t gatekeep. As academics and educators we have creative ways of thinking about how we share our information. Why do we keep defaulting to these ableist ways of doing knowledge exchange and meeting up. It’s really something that is seemingly a lack of innovation or a lack of wanting to see it differently. There’s so much possibility! Let’s try to keep innovating on what accessible conferences could be like.

9:52 So that’s it, that’s episode 9 of Accessagogy with a look on how you could make your conference more accessible if you wanted to, and doing that from the start. And the kinds of things that conference organizing communities should be thinking about as they are planning events.

10:11 Remember as well that I also want this to be a space where you can ask questions and share concepts that you would like me to discuss. So if there’s anything that I mentioned here about conferences or anything that you would like me to clarify in terms of planning or more resources that you need, please ask.

10:28 As well if you have any ideas or aspects of your pedagogy that you would like me to address in this podcast, please feel free to send me an email at Accessagogy so that’s acc e ss a gogy at gmail dot com. I will try to include as many suggestions as possible in the podcast because ultimately this podcast is for you. So that’s it, that’s episode 9 of Accessagogy, thanks so much for following along and asking how can I make my space more accessible today? Have a great week!

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