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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Woodward

Video & Transcript: How to Make Your Conference More Accessible

Hi I'm Stephanie Woodward with Disability Details talking to you about disability rights, access, and life. Today I want to talk to you about conferences. I recently went to a conference that wasn't exactly accessible in so many ways and I thought that that would be a great reason to make a video as to how we can work together to make more conferences more accessible for everybody. Why should you make your conference accessible? Because you have no idea who's coming to it. You might know every single attendee I bet you you don't know if every single attendee has a disability or not because not every disability is a visible disability and you don't have to RSVP "disabled" usually to come to a conference and if your conference does require you to RSVP "disabled" or "not disabled" you're probably discriminating in some way and you should stop doing that. But in other news, people can become disabled to anytime so maybe they came to your conference last year and they didn't have a disability and suddenly this year they do or perhaps they only have a temporary disability but that still doesn't mean they don't need access and you know what whether or not someone needs access a lot of people enjoy access so I want to talk to you about the different things that you can do to make your conferences more accessible and to be mindful of and the first thing I want to talk to you about is seating.

If I can figure out how to be smart enough to put in a picture of the seating of this conference I will. This conference that I went to had seating that was so incredibly tight the even people who appeared to be non-disabled thought it was miserable honestly as a wheelchair user I couldn't get into the room because there were so many chairs just packed up nice and tight next to each other like little sardines. There was only room for aisles to walk in so if I came in with my wheelchair and wanted to sit somewhere I would be literally in the middle of an aisle people could not pass me or I could sit in the doorway where again people could not pass me. Anywhere I went I'm sure people would be calling me a fire hazard. Way to make me feel welcome everybody. But in addition to me as a wheelchair user could you imagine literally anybody who is not sitting on the end - anyone who has to get past an end seat, kind of going sideways like this every time they get on an airplane from now on is gonna have flashbacks to your conference and how miserable this seating was. Could you imagine? Do you want to be that conference? I don't think so. So instead of packing people in tight like that, give people some space. People with disabilities like space, people with physical disabilities, with walking disabilities like space, people who are bigger like space, people who don't want other people touching them want space, a lot of people like or want space, nobody wants to be tight up next to each other. So please think about your seating and if you feel like a room doesn't have enough space unless you pile people on top of each other consider getting a bigger room for your space for your conference.

The next thing I want to talk about is captions. If you're going to show a video at your conference for the love of all things that are good in this world turn on the captions. You don't know who is in your audience so you don't know who might be struggling to understand what is being said in that video. There could be people who are hard of hearing, there could be people who know English as a Second Language who find that having the captions on really help them, me just as a learner I understand information better when I hear it and read it at the same time. Turn on the freaking captions! It just will help people process information and it helps you people your audience whether or not you know that they need the captions I bet you people in that audience do need the captions and it doesn't hurt you to show videos with captions. So please turn on the captions.

The next thing is when you're showing powerpoints or things with images describe your images. I know everyone thinks they make the best powerpoints in the world - let me be clear to you nobody likes PowerPoint. Nobody likes my powerpoint. People don't like powerpoints. Game over. But if you do make a power point and it has images or you make any sort of presentation with images and you're going to be talking describe your image say "little girls sitting at a table with her Barbie" whatever the image is particularly if it's a graph because there are some people who are sitting in the back who forgot their glasses that day, there are some people who are blind or low vision, there are some people who don't understand why that image is there because they just don't get it, so please describe your image. It helps everybody.

Next thing is think about your bathrooms. If you think you have covered everything if you don't have accessible bathrooms you don't have an accessible conference. If you want me to spend eight to twelve hours of my life in a room or multiple rooms with you for any purpose whatsoever and I cannot pee, we have a problem because I'm going to have pee - probably multiple times throughout that day. So if you don't have accessible stalls there's an issue and please know the difference between a fully accessible stall and an ambulatory stall. An ambulatory stall is a slightly wider stall with grab bars on each side an accessible stall is a stall that you could get into with a wheelchair and turn all the way around. If you look at a stall and you think hmm wheelchair can't turn around in here, chances are wheelchair can turn around in there which means that bathroom is not accessible which means that bathroom it's not for your conference because you don't know who's going to show up. You don't know who could have broken their leg yesterday and is going to need to pee today. So make sure that your bathrooms are accessible you're also going to want to make sure that the soap and the paper towel are within a good reach range which it's 48 inches or lower, the sink that you can get to, all of these different things and I will be sure to make more videos in the future about how to make sure bathrooms are accessible.

The last thing I want to touch on is microphones. Oh my god just use the damn microphone already. Listen Barb, suddenly after a Smirnoff lite on karaoke night you turn into Barbra Streisand with your two girlfriends who are the only audience you have and I can't peel you away from the microphone but when you're at a conference and there are people who actually need to hear what you're saying you don't need the mic? Let me make something clear to you here the microphone is not about you. The microphone is about access for everybody else. I know that we all like to think that we have the loudest voice in the world or perhaps you're just insecure or self-conscious or you just don't want to be publicly heard either way you've got to use the mic because otherwise there are people in the room who cannot access the information that you're saying. You do not have a voice that can project to 200 people without amplification I promise you that. No matter what you think, no! And nobody likes when they have to sit and pretend that they know what you're saying. You don't even have a voice that can project over 50 people probably. It's going to help everybody understand what you're saying, not miss any of the important information that I'm sure you want to share, or you know, the weird opinions that you really need to say - whatever it is you need to share – people are gonna miss the information if you don't use the microphone. So please don't come up with excuses just to use the microphone because people need it for their access. It's not about you, it is about access. Use the microphone.

So there's already tons of guides out there on how to make your events accessible so I'm not going to recreate the wheel here but I will link below to a few great resources that I think could be helpful for you so if you're looking to make your event accessible just look at the links below check them out or you could always email us over here at

© Stephanie Woodward, 2020. All rights reserved.

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