I’ve decided to share a post from Blind Spot, a fantastic blog written by Dr. Hannah Thompson. In this blog post, she presents several simple suggestions for making conferences and meetings more accessible to disabled participants:
“As I become more involved in Disability Studies as a discipline, I find myself increasingly invited to attend disability-themed events at both my own and other institutions. These range from academic conferences where I present my work and discuss the work of others, to talks for a general audience about issues around disability, and meetings and workshops about improving support for both disabled students and staff across the HE sector.
The organisers of such events do a great job of ensuring that they are always wheelchair accessible. But disabled access is about a lot more than wheelchairs. Recently I have found myself in the somewhat paradoxical position of discussing the importance of disability awareness-raising during a number of events which were not fully accessible to me. Powerpoints are almost always used, but I rarely encounter a speaker who takes the time to describe the images on the screen. Handouts are often circulated but unless they have been sent round in advance, I am unable to access the information they contain.
Practising inclusive access is not as onerous as it sounds. In fact many of the suggestions I list below are incredibly easy to incorporate.”
I can’t count the number of blindness events I’ve attended that have ignored principles of universal access. Even events designed to help or encourage blind people forget to enlarge their handouts or direct newcomers to the meeting with accessable signage. What kind of message does such forgetfulness extend to a newly blind person?
These guidelines are not just for disability-related organizations. Failing to extend access to all participants in a discussion is like printing 24 handouts for 26 students – or deliberately printing the materials in a foreign language. If we take this access out of a disability context, the measures become inexcusable; you wouldn’t expect a student to “just listen and follow along” without a handout when everyone else has their own copy to annotate.
As a moderator, teacher, facilitator – as a leader of any kind – you have a responsibility to welcome everyone at the table. Inclusive access is no longer about doing the legal minimum (“Well I’ll address those needs in the future if she happens to come up and tell me about the problem”). It’s about empathetic planning. The essence of forethought is that it attempts to anticipate what others may need.
We all know our clients, our students, our staff. Many of our disabled staff give us regular visual reminders – a dog, a wheelchair, a white cane, a hearing aid. Let’s decide in this moment to be proactive, to engage in a dialogue about effective methods of presentation before the meeting even starts.
Everyday empathy is what builds a just world.