Inclusive by Design: Sharing Insights for Crafting Accessible Conferences

As educators, we understand that true learning happens when barriers are removed and diverse voices are amplified. Recently, we took the stage at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference to share our experiences designing accessible conferences and events. This wasn’t a one-way lecture; it was a collaborative exploration, inviting the audience to contribute their insights and perspectives. Our goal? To inspire a shift in how we approach conference planning, moving beyond mere compliance to foster environments where every attendee can fully engage, learn and thrive.

Conferences serve as focal points for exchanging ideas, networking and professional growth. However, amidst the hustle and bustle of logistical planning and content curation, it is important not to overlook the crucial aspect of accessibility. Accessible conferences ensure that all attendees, regardless of physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities, can participate fully and engage with the content and networking opportunities. This inclusivity fosters a richer exchange of ideas and knowledge, contributing to the overall success of the conference.

Plan Purposefully and Proactively

The journey toward inclusivity begins with a proactive mindset, one that acknowledges and anticipates the diverse needs of attendees. Institutions and companies must embed accessibility considerations into every stage of the conference planning process. This involves engaging with disabled individuals directly, seeking their insights and perspectives to inform decision-making.

As a product accessibility lead at Anthology and someone with a personal stake in accessibility, Lomellini has been deeply involved in the planning of Anthology Together 24, alongside other disabled colleagues. Our firsthand experiences and insights are critical in shaping the event. By sharing our feedback, we help the organizers identify potential barriers that might not be obvious to someone without similar experiences. This collaborative approach is essential for implementing effective solutions and enhancing the overall accessibility of the conference.

Forming an accessibility committee stands as a cornerstone of this endeavor. This committee comprises individuals with disabilities, advocates and experts in accessibility and serves as a dedicated entity tasked with ensuring that accessibility remains a focal point throughout the planning process. Their role extends beyond mere oversight; they actively contribute insights, review plans and propose innovative solutions to address accessibility challenges comprehensively.


Philadelphia with the iconic red and purple
Image credit: Rebecca M. Reese

Ensure Physical Accessibility

Physical accessibility encompasses a spectrum of considerations, ranging from Braille signage, wheelchair access to restroom facilities, ensuring ample spaces for wheelchairs in sessions, providing accessible routes and elevators, and checking the functionality of automatic door openers. Additionally, designated quiet spaces offer respite for individuals who may require a break from the sensory stimuli of the conference environment. For Anthology Together 24, Anthology has people walk through the conference spaces to identify areas for improvement. During the conference, requiring speakers to use microphones and keeping pathways clear of barriers are just a few measures that can significantly enhance inclusivity within physical spaces. Incorporating features such as picture-in-picture sign language interpretation during main-stage presentations exemplifies a commitment to inclusivity on the physical front.

Don’t Forget About Digital Accessibility

In the digital dimension, accessibility extends to the design of conference materials and platforms. Mobile accessibility, for instance, supports individuals in navigating conference resources seamlessly using their smartphones or tablets. At Anthology, we have worked closely with our mobile vendor to improve the accessibility of the platform. Additionally, providing options for sign language interpretation, both in person and via virtual platforms, enhances the accessibility of presentations and discussions for individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Beyond infrastructure and technology, fostering a culture of inclusivity involves providing support mechanisms. Having knowledgeable staff or volunteers available to answer questions and offer assistance ensures that attendees can navigate the conference with ease. Establishing avenues for individuals to request specific accommodations, such as sign language interpretation or assistance navigating the venue, demonstrates a commitment to meeting diverse needs effectively. Anthology provides an online frequently asked questions page to help answer accessibility questions and empower participants to make informed decisions. We also encourage people to note any accessibility needs they would like us to consider on the registration form. However, we still anticipate diversity and plan for accessibility proactively.

Continuously Commit to Accessibility

Creating accessible conferences goes beyond simply meeting standards; it reflects a deep commitment to fostering equity and inclusivity in every aspect of the event. By proactively involving disabled individuals throughout the planning process, institutions and companies can create environments where all participants can engage, learn and contribute fully. At Anthology, we continue to strive to build more inclusive spaces; prioritizing accessibility in conference design serves as a testament to our collective commitment to diversity and equality in all facets of society.

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