One of the barriers to participation in academic philosophy consists in events being inaccessible. Unfortunately, a common approach to this problem is to ask would-be conference goers to announce their needs to the conference organisers in advance, who will then attempt to accommodate them. This is not optimal for various reasons. The individual has to declare that they are disabled to the conference organisers, and the onus is on the individual to do extra work to negotiate with the people in charge to make it possible for them to attend. The implication is also that the would-be participant requires others to make a special case for him or her. I’m often reminded of the system that operates at many UK railway stations, where to use the disabled toilet – which is kept locked – one must traipse around looking for someone with the key. Not only one must announce to the key-keeper that one is disabled and that one needs the toilet. One must also do all the extra moving around the station trying to find the person with the key.
A far better approach is that known as ‘Universal Design’, where the event is designed with different people’s needs in mind from the outset. Conference-goers with varying needs can then all participate on the same terms, without any of them having to do lots of extra work just to access the conference.
Of course, running a conference that meets such standards of accessibility requires some knowledge on the part of the organisers. How should one organise a conference to be as accessible as possible?
The following accessibility guidelines are intended to improve access to the conference, through thinking of it as a shared space in which all should be able to participate. We are making these guidelines available now so that conference attendees can plan their papers and presentations with them in mind.
Note that there are guidelines for both presenters and for moderators. If there are any concerns that arise during conference events, please let the moderator know. Moderators will be asked to help facilitate accessibility during sessions. You may ask the moderator for assistance before, during, or after your talk. If needed they will be in touch with Jane Dryden (local conference organizer) or a designated student volunteer.
NB: These guidelines represent a starting point for thinking about access during CSWIP 2016. Please note the limits of guidelines, and be attentive to other ways of enhancing access. Access is best achieved if we think of it as a shared community project.
As the last sentence of this quote makes clear, Universal Design is an ideal end-state. People need to work together to develop ideas about accessibility, which will allow the profession to improve accessibility standards. You can read more here.
Shelley also suggests reading this article, that discusses the issue in relation to psychiatric disabilities, although it maybe doesn’t do enough to distinguish between accommodation and accessibility.
EDITED TO ADD: I strongly encourage people with questions and queries about these issues to head over to the Discrimination and Disadvantage blog, where Shelley and other bloggers there will be able to help.