From Our Intern: Top Tips for Planning Accessible Conferences

My name is Lucas Sanders, and this summer I have been working as an intern with DR. Arielle Silverman. When DR. Silverman was hired as a consultant, for the Physics Education Research Conference Planning Committee, I was asked to help research how they could best ensure their conferences are fully accessible for all of their attendees. While helping do research on conference accessibility, I learned a lot about just how much extensive planning goes into creating an accessible conference environment. Below are some of the most important things one should consider when planning an accessible conference.

When planning a conference, one should always attempt to make it as accessible as possible for the convenience of those who will be attending. This may seem rather daunting considering the wide spectrum of different people’s needs and the wide range of disabilities of those who may be attending. This is why the first step, when planning a conference, is to make things as simple as possible and should be to assign someone on the planning committee of the conference, to oversee all matters concerning accessibility. This person is usually called the accessibility chair person, and they have the responsibility of ensuring that all attendees will be equally able to participate. The first thing the accessibility chair person should oversee, is the creation of the registration form, which needs to be accessible to those using screen readers or zoom text. The form should also have a sufficient checklist for people to go through and check off concerning any accommodations they’ll need when attending the conference. Once this is done the accessibility chair person can begin planning for the location of the event, which is one of the most important aspects to consider when thinking about those with special travel needs. The location will need to be easily accessible for those who are unable to drive themselves. This means it should be near an airport for those who are flying in and near bus stops for those who will be using that form of transportation. The event should also be near or in a hotel for the convenience of those who will need to be staying overnight, and are unable to drive themselves. The building itself should also be easily accessible to those in wheelchairs or other physical disabilities.

Once the registration form and the location have been created and determined the next thing to be considered is the formatting of all material that will be presented at the conference. The accessibility chair person should inform all speakers to provide their presentations ahead of time so they can be put in alternate formats. The speakers should also be informed that any and all videos should be captioned and that they should be prepared to give an auditory description of all visual images used threwout their presentation.

These are perhaps the most important things to consider, but there are many more aspects to creating the perfect accessible conference. Such as, providing volunteers to assist people in getting food if food is provided, providing volunteers to read any and all signs or posters, ensuring all seating arrangements are spread out enough that people in wheelchairs will be able to maneuver throughout the room, making sure that there will be enough money in the budget to hire enough interpreters if requested, and correctly labeling all food that is provided, for the benefit of those who may have allergies or dietary restrictions.

 If all these things are properly set up then your conference should go smoothly, but to be properly prepared it’s important to also carefully choose the staff who will be working at the event. It will be a huge benefit if the volunteers and event staff have been properly trained in how to assist those with disabilities as an extra precaution to ensure the satisfaction of all attendees.

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