Skepticon=Accesiblecon

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SKEPTICONTOWNVILLE!

After reading about some recent events, we here at Skepticon HQ want to make sure that our event is as accessible as possible to any and all that want to come. After doing some brainstorming on what we can do, it finally hit us that we should ask all of you (our most favorite people ever) how we can make this event a better experience. What kinds of things can we do to make this event as accessible and awesome as humanly possible?

Here are some things we are brainstorming to help kick off the conversation:

  • Ginormous signage
  • ASL Interpreters for as many talks as we can manage (Anyone know of awesome volunteers for this?)
  • Braille printed programs

It’s important to us here at Skepticon that everyone have the best experience possible over our convention weekend, so let us know what we can do to increase the amazeballness.

Love,

Skepticon

23 Comments

  1. Having a few Braille printed programs is cool–or it’s easier still to just sent the documents to the visually impaired participants ahead of time. The blind people (whom I know anyway) have the resources to convert plain text edocuments to Braille on their portable mini laptop-sized computers and are used to doing that at work all the time. Best solution–ask! And make the registration web page accessible. To check your page, use an accessibility checker like http://wave.webaim.org. Oh, and you Skepticon people are the best ever! :)

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    • Thanks for the feedback! :D

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  2. Here’s a presentation I gave on the very topic last year:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJG5ACIjBrU transcript: http://wp.me/p1JYR4-3C

    Here’s a good list that many have come up with:
    http://atheismplus.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=4799

    I think the best starting point is to have a person who is designated as point-person for all things accessibility, for ease of organization and accountability.

    In terms of what Skepticon has done well that I would like to see continued:
    -Unisex restrooms! Thank you! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many openly trans/genderqueer people all in one place before at a non-LGBT event. It really made me feel welcome.
    -Potty breaks between talks.
    -Tables for people to eat/relax.
    -Enough space in aisles and walkways for wheelchairs.

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  3. Having CART (Computer Aided Realtime Transcription) can be a way to provide accessibility to both Hard of Hearing and Deaf people as well as for anyone who processes information better visually. It also provides a transcript for the talks which allows ease of captioning for any videos you may want to post to your website later. Interpreters are great, but they don’t provide accessibility for people who don’t sign and are not worth it for the web unless you have a dedicated camera on them. Which, if you have interpreters and they agree having a video of the interpreters is a great way to provide access to the Deaf community after the fact.

    In that same vein, require all presenters to caption any video/media presentations they will be using.

    I agree with the above commenter that Braille is a very expensive thing and most Blind people I have met prefer to use screen readers. Having large font programs available is always nice, and high contrast for people who are low vision.

    Making sure that there is access for people in wheelchairs or who use other mobility aides, meaning adequate walk ways and making sure people know to keep out of the walkways.

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  4. I posted some things at JT’s blog…but I have a couple that I forgot (and a couple I am going to emphasize again bc people think they’re optional):

    No flash photography. Alternatively, put on all your advertising materials that you hate epileptics. (that’s the one people think is no big deal. I was nearly hospitalized at an event that promised access and straight up lied, so it’s a thorn in my side).

    Have actual disabled speakers (I forgot this one on JT’s blog). Representation is good. Going to events and not seeing anyone like me sucks. Along the same lines, don’t, just don’t, have speakers who use ableist turns of phrase. That’s all sorts of chilly climate right there.

    Transcripts. For the love of all that is good, transcribe your shit. Handouts of slides available, also good. Also on access for those of us with processing difficulties: any mic feedback can cut comprehension in half. Please get sound systems de-feedbacked ahead of time. Oh and I’d love forever any con that had a few pairs of earplugs available.

    And, of course, for people who need to access all materials auditorily, read your slides or have someone available who will do so. There MIGHT be screenreader tech that’ll do this if it’s all online (so, like, skepticon website. click on session you are going to. those slides are there, with image descriptions all ready to go); I am not an expert in that arena.

    And one I really forgot is more a category: be prepared to deal gracefully with screwing up–even if the person who you screwed up at (no matter how accidental) is annoyed/pissy/actively flipping their shit (unless they touch you, then all bets are off). Most people can walk away from access needs. Do NOT burst into tears if the meanypants disabled person, who is sick of having to fight for access every day, is a bit snarky with you.

    An accessibility coordinator who is available before the event & whose contact information is WIDELY AVAILABLE (email! phone! fax! whatever!) well in advance can a) reduce the whole issue of messing up and b) can give you someone who is prepared for handling irritated people. I know that I’d praise the hell out of a really real access coordinator who did a good job, fwiw (this means more if you know how stingy I am with cookies…)

    I had a couple others over at JT’s, as I said…and will probably have more later…cuz access matters…

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  5. I also posted over at JT’s that I thought I’d repost so they don’t get missed:
    -Seating accommodations for those with mobility impairments
    -If there are queues for events consider a system that allows people with mobility impairments to reserve seats or have placeholders in the line so they don’t have to remain standing more than necessary
    -Training for volunteers about proper etiquette with service animals

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  6. Descriptive hover text on images on websites.

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  7. I’ll speak mostly on the food allergy/environmental allergy/scent sensitivity/breathing issues front.

    1) Have, sign, and enforce a scent-free policy. This one is huge. A lot of places make lip-service to scent-free stuff, but don’t actually enforce it. If you can smell someone, send them for a shower. If you don’t, you might see me at the first aid station. Which brings me to…
    2) Have a first aid station with trained first aiders both stationed there and on patrol. I do NOT want to manage someone else’s panic and my own asthma attack, nor do I want to deal with any of a large number of experiences I’ve had in severe attacks because nobody knew first aid.. If I’m in an attack, I want to be communicating with someone who knows the basics and can help me help myself. I don’t want to be communicating with someone whose knowledge of asthma comes from daytime soaps, Grandpa’s stories and the Goonies. Lacking a first-aider, I’d rather deal with an attack alone than with a well-meaning but ignorant bystander.
    3) If possible, have the event in a carpet- and drapery-free venue. Carpets and drapes carry dust, mold, mildew, scents, animal dander, and all sorts of other allergens. You might not notice, but after a few hours, my lungs will.
    4) If 3 isn’t possible, arrange for a full cleaning the day before the event – this includes steam-washing the carpets with something that will kill mold and mildew. Vacuuming isn’t good enough for those with severe mold, dust or mildew allergies.
    5) Air conditioning if it’s hot/humid out, and to prevent pollen from getting inside.
    6) If food is there, provide full ingredients lists on everything. Even spices and herbs. There’s an herb that triggers face swelling and asthma in me. I don’t want to eat something I think is safe and find out it’s not when my mouth starts to itch and my lips and eyes start to swell.
    7) Treat everyone who says they have a food allergy as if the thing they say they’re allergic to could kill them. Why? Well, if they’re lying because they’re picky eaters (these people exist and cause me a shitload of headache), you’re inconvenienced. If they’re telling the truth and you assume they’re not, you could kill them.
    8) Artificial flowers and plants if plants are used for decoration, please. Not just because pollen, but for people with more serious lung conditions than mine, the pots carry molds and bacteria that can cause serious lung infections.
    9) Coming back to 1: Have, sign and enforce a smoke-free policy, with a minimum distance of at least 20-30 feet from entryways and a rule that they have to stand downwind of the doors or outdoor venues. Most American places I’ve been to aren’t smoke free, and even in Canada, a lot of places that nominally are smoke-free let smokers stand directly in front of open doors so the smoke wafts into the building. If there’s smoke, I can’t access it. On the same vein, no camp fires unless they’re well downwind of the main event.
    10) On the topic of food allergies: If you can’t prohibit common allergens, then set up allergen zones where people can consume allergenic foods, and require that they wash their hands with soap and water as they leave. I used to work with a coworker so allergic to peanuts that if someone ate PB&J, then turned on the light without washing their hands, and my coworker shut off the light as he left and then bit off a hangnail or something, he’d likely end up hospitalized. Contact transfer is a thing, and people need to respect that it can be very dangerous.
    11) Offer food options free of common allergens, and have them prepared and served as separately as possible. This includes but is not limited to: Mayonnaise-free sandwiches (eggs), GF sandwiches (wheat), cheese-free options (dairy), margarine-free options (soy), and so on.
    12) Take complaints seriously, and make sure the person complaining knows you’re taking it seriously. Nothing sends a message of “you don’t matter to us” more than indifference when I point out that someone’s doing something dangerous to me.
    13) Ideally, have a formal way of keeping track of complaints and their resolution, and following up on them, so that you can learn what needs to be changed year-to-year. If you already do this for code of conduct stuff, it should be pretty easy to adapt for accessibility.

    Some other stuff I’ve learned from friends:
    *Healthy food options
    *Graphical signage, with minimal text.
    *lots of places to sit
    *Hands-on demos
    *If more than one building is involved, paved walking paths with gentle slopes and no stairs.
    *Check all color schemes with colorblindness simulators to ensure they’re accessible for that. One of my coworkers has red-green colorblindness, and his biggest problem when he went to first year uni was that the meal hall direction signs in orientation? Red on green. Same contrast. He had no freaking clue where he was supposed to go because he couldn’t see what the sign said.
    *Audio format everything that can be audio formatted – braille and large print doesn’t much help someone with severe dyslexia

    Some stuff that is not an absolute-cannot-access-if-this-isn’t-here for me, but would make it a lot easier and/or will let me have complete access:
    *Written supporting material for talks (I have ADHD, so loud noisy environment = lots of distractions = can’t focus = poor audio comprehension), provided during the talk (my ADHD means I’ll probably either lose it or forget it if you give it to me ahead of time)
    *Quiet policy enforced in talks (see above re: ADHD)
    *Quiet zones (I’m very introverted… Once I hit my limit, if I can’t go somewhere to recharge, I’ll leave because otherwise I will crash and burn) and/or alone zones where you can go and if not be alone, at least know that others know if you’re there, it’s because you don’t want to socialize right now.
    *Earplugs would be wonderful.
    *Publicly posted map and talk schedule (I lose all of the things. See ADHD).

    Hope these ideas help.

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    • These were enormously helpful! Thank you so much for taking the time to share, we will definitely take this into account as we form this year’s festivities. I hope you can come out and see us–SK6 will be our most 6th year yet! :p

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      • Afraid I live 3/4 of the continent away and it’s during the school year when I’m contractually prohibited from taking vacation, so if it wasn’t the travel costs, it’s the liking my job and wanting to keep it. :(

        If you have it during Spring break or in late May/early June some year, I’ll see if I can make it work. :)

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  8. The above suggestions were awesome! I’m also one of those people who is much more interested in the speakers and the dialogue than the socializing or conviviality. I *like* people, but two hours of company is about my limit – and that’s with small groups of close friends. It would be really cool if at least one of the big cons would offer “virtual” participation. For me, this would also take care of a lot of the environmental issues (perfumes can cause me a lot of pain, and I won’t even consider going to Las Vegas because of all the cigarette smoke). And while I don’t like heat any more than most people, an air conditioning draft that hits me directly will cause pain.

    I suppose skeptic groups could start experimenting with virtual cons online, say Google meetups? I’d happily pay the conference fee plus an extra “virtual” fee if I could stream the panels and speakers and attend from home.

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    • We livestream our event, so look for that come November!

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      • What’s the info on the livestream for my peeps back home?

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  9. Live streaming for those of us who cannot attend? I’m new around here so perhaps you already do this?

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    • We introduced Livestreaming last year and will continue to do so in the future! :D

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      • Now I really am excited! Hopefully, I’ll be able to attend in person some time in the future.

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  10. Agree with the above stuff. All good ideas. I should have mentioned that lots of visually impaired people don’t read Braille, and whether they read Braille or not will often use other technology–like screen readers.

    Oh, and I would just mention (I think you probably know this, as you are all awesome) that the person needing the accommodation is the expert on what they need or don’t need. Don’t give people help that they don’t want/need. None of that “You’re blind so you gotta sit HERE” stuff. :)

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  11. WisCon has been working on accessibility issues for several years. They have a guide to what they do and don’t or can’t do here: http://www.wiscon.info/access.php There is also a contact email toward the bottom of that page. Their accessibility team wants to help people make other cons more accessible too.

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    • This is a really great resource, thank you so much for sharing!

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  12. Good quality fast wi-fi: even if we have to pay for it – eg $10 for a day pass or something, so long as it’s fast and a strong connection

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  13. Love the mentions from SB Morgaine & Kassiane!

    The CART and transcripts are also great for not only people with hearing impairments or ADHD, but also Auditory Processing Disorder. (I can hear well, but have decoding errors, so it’s Mondegreens all day long.) See? Two kinds of accommodations help a variety of different people. Win!

    Include a pocket folder with conference materials for people to keep their pages and transcripts. TIP: Put a sticker on the front to remind attendees to put their name on it. That saves you from having to give out so many extra copies to replace those mislaid, and if you get people’s contact info (mobile voice/text/e-mail) when you hand them out, then you can let people know when someone else has turned in a lost packet. (It’s not just about saving the trees; we have our precious notes on those pages!)

    TIP: Glue a [full-page size] copy of the meeting site map on the front or back of the packet, and the schedule on the other. Yes, things change, but most of the plan will stay the same, and there will be less paper shuffling and dropping throughout the day. It may sound like up-front work for something that only helps a couple of people, but in reality, most everyone will find it helpful and wonder why it’s not standard.

    Clearing out feedback in your sound systems would be fabulous; I have hyperacussis and nearly fall off my chair in pain. (It also triggers the noisier version of my tinnitus, which in turn makes understanding speech difficult.)

    Loud background muzak/DJ, disco-ball and/or strobe lights and such are fun for some people, but limit them to a particular time and location [behind doors]. They’re migraine-inducing (as well as being hostile to epileptics). BTW, that timing should not be part of the regular dinner event or whatever — don’t make people miss important segments.

    Non-smoking everywhere in the event, including outside doorways.

    Extra seating for socialising, and seating accommodations would be lovely.
    Tables should be at a height for those who use wheel chairs (bar-stool tables are too high). Remember, it’s not enough for aisles to be wide enough for people using wheels; there has to be enough room to U-turn at dead ends!

    I love the idea of quiet areas. It would be great to “recharge” from getting so overwhelmed by all the lovely input and too much peopleness. I hate having to either have to choose between not being able to focus or remember what I’m experiencing, or going to my room and feeling like I’m missing what I came for.

    Lastly, THANK YOU for asking instead of assuming that what you already have must be okay, or that what occurs to one or two organisers will be what the attendees want and need!

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  14. I couldn’t make it this year, but it sounds like at least one person was unclear on the access concept:

    An access barrier is a problem, even if no one approaches the access barrier and says “so that’s causing me a problem”.

    I will shell out the cash to get there when & only when dealing with seizure triggers is not going to be made my problem (at which point I will be tone policed at because god letting me be in public at all is more than I have a right to expect GEEZE).

    Flying across the country to deal with access barriers is not something I have the money or spoons to do. And people do TELL me things.

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    • Lauren here. I think you are referring to the situation where one of our vendor tables had a small light display present on his tabletop. Once we (the organizers) were alerted to the problem, we asked him to take it down and he did. We have amended tabling procedures for the future and promise to be more diligent with our practices as we move forward.

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