December 5, 2018

Professional conferences as accessible conferences

Posted by Laura Guertin

The tweet above links to an article on the Union of Concerned Scientists blog, authored by Gabi Serrato Marks, PhD candidate in marine geology in the MIT-WHOI program. Titled How to Make Professional Conferences More Accessible for Disabled People: Guidance from Actual Disabled Scientists, this article is a must-read for everyone that is about to head out to the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting.

If you haven’t thought about the impact of a marathon-like conference (length of days, length of week, length of time standing at a poster, etc.), then perhaps start with this article from The Guardian, Without accessible conferences, we lose the voices of disabled academics. The article immediately starts out by stating, “Conferences are an essential part of academic life. But disabled attendees can struggle with accessibility, socialising and fatigue.”

What I appreciate about Gabi’s article is that she expands upon this topic, emphasizing that she is only providing an introduction to the many ways that conference organizers and each of us individually can work towards making the AGU Fall Meeting a more inclusive and effective professional and personal experience for all.

Gabi’s post is broken down into sections on etiquette, physical space, communication, presentations and panels, poster sessions, receptions, and provides links to additional resources. I won’t reproduce Gabi’s entire article here, as she does an excellent job generating awareness of how the sights, smells, sounds, and visual arrangement are all areas we should paying attention to. Please read her post!

I will call attention to one item that is unfortunately consistent with all conferences – a concern that has been shared across social media and that I have struggled with myself at AGU:

Here is the article linked in the first tweet, What You’re Saying When You Say “I Don’t Need a Mic”.

I quickly become frustrated by speakers in oral sessions that stand in front of the podium on the floor and say ,”Can you all hear me? I’ll speak loud enough” or “I’ll just use my classroom voice.” Please – use the lavalier microphone, or if one is not available, please stand at the podium microphone. We’re in the room because we want to hear what you have to say!

I also include this tweet from IAGD (International Association for Geoscience Diversity), as there is an informative thread about the use of microphones in the middle of the aisles for people to ask questions of speakers – microphones that are available to whoever can “run” up to them first and can stand in line the longest. Please click on the line with the time and date of their tweet, and you can read additional posts on the topic.

I welcome these discussions and the awareness this is raising among all of us. But awareness also needs to translate to action. Let’s keep our eyes and ears out to help each other at the AGU Fall Meeting this year, and make suggestions to AGU for their next meeting to make it even more accessible and inclusive for all scientists.