Dear organizers, event planners, and company representatives:
Stop assuming that access is too expensive.
Build access into your budget from the start of planning, not as a reluctantly tacked-on afterthought. When you seek funding or set prices, determine the cost of your event with a range of access services included.
Ask actual people what they need if you don’t know, and be broad in your call for input. Many people aren’t attending your events because they assumed they wouldn’t be included. It takes a lot of energy to reach out and ask for a particular access need to be met when your lived experience has been constant rejection. And not everyone who would benefit knows to ask–plenty of folks who don’t identify as disabled will have a more pleasant event when you consider things like captioning, designated quiet rooms, and nutritional variety. That means that they’ll come back, recommend you to friends, and spend their money on your event. They may think of services as “luxuries” rather than accommodations, but the principles of universal access don’t require anyone to identify as disabled. The point is recognizing that keeping access in mind benefits everyone.
Oh, and if you say you’re going to provide a particular kind of access, but fall through because you didn’t take the cost into account? You look like a jerk.
If you belittle the person asking for services, make value judgements about their request, suggest that they pay for the service, or tell a Deaf person to find their own interpreter? You look like a jerk.
If you say you’ll provide access, but ignore the actual request and provide an alternative (cheaper) service that doesn’t fully meet an attendee’s needs? You look like a jerk.
If you’re a big company and refuse to provide types of access that plenty of small non-profits bend over backwards to provide, even digging into their own limited pockets, because it’s “too expensive?” You look like a really, really big jerk.
Access matters. Do the right thing.
This post is the final one in a four-part series on polyamory, healing, and societal wounds. Start with part one.
This post is something of a footnote or a wrap-up to the Poly in Practice series. We started with talking about equity vs. equality in poly, then moved on to how capitalism fucks us all up, and then in the last post talked about some of the particular challenges of healing from past relationship trauma. Now, I want to come back to a theme I only briefly touched on in posts two and four: how we might tie disability justice ideas, and specifically the concept of universal access, in with practicing polyamory.
Really, ableism runs throughout this topic, and throughout the models of poly I’ve been challenging as too limiting in this series. The concept of equality is often applied in ableist ways, as is capitalism. Disability justice reminds us the playing field is not, in fact, level. Not everyone can reach the same milestone of equality by pulling on their bootstraps—nor should they. The concept of universal access suggests that the solution, however, isn’t necessarily trying to level the playing field by changing the milestone for people with disabilities, or helping with the bootstrap-pulling through charity or medical advances. Instead, entire systems can be designed from the ground up to be accessible to everyone—whether we’re thinking about architecture, communications infrastructure, or even relationship models.
Universal access focuses not on the “person with disabilities,” but on the range of ways in which people work, live, move, and communicate. Rather than “accommodating” one person or group of people, this model looks at how everyone can benefit from a broader definition of accessibility. Here, I’m thus going to make an effort to apply the idea of universal access to love—focusing on how poly communities can radically change the way we look at love and access to love with a focus on community growth rather than individual relationship challenges.
It’s been a while since I updated Radically Queer, and that’s mostly because I started a new job as a database manager in August. The job has been excellent so far, and one of the professional development opportunities I’d been most looking forward to as a part of it was Dreamforce 2014, a huge conference for Salesforce users taking place in San Francisco last week. Like my fellow nearly 150,000 attendees, I arrived to San Francisco excited to learn about better ways to use the platform and the new features Salesforce will be offering in the coming year. I was caught up in the enthusiasm of all the huge blue signs and volunteers stationed throughout the Financial District to make it easy for us to register and start the conference. But my experience went downhill pretty quickly Monday morning.
This being such a big, professionally organized conference, my expectations around language accessibility were high. I was a little surprised not to find any obvious accessibility request language or procedures on the main Dreamforce page, but a month or two before the conference I posted a question about ASL interpretation in one of the Dreamforce-related Success Community groups and a Salesforce staff member directed me to the events company managing the conference. The rep replied to my email with one question about keynotes and otherwise, I figured everything was handled. I’d registered very early for a couple of sessions a day, focusing on what I most needed to learn, to make sure it would be easy to provide interpreter coverage for me for the event. But when I arrived at my first session on Monday, I was surprised to find that no interpreter was present. The folks manning the door were also not able to provide me seating up-front, as the session had filled up and I could only sit in the middle of the huge room. I knew I wouldn’t get anything out of the session, so I left.
Later, I Tweeted my disappointment, including the @dreamforce handle, and I did get a quick reply asking for my contact information and offering a follow-up. I was told to expect contact from a particular representative, who didn’t contact me by the end of the day, so I tried again with a DM through Twitter. I received a call on my cell phone, which I couldn’t answer in the loud conference environment, but later received a text and figured out from the matching number that the Salesforce rep had tried to call me to set up an interpreter. We were able to coordinate through text and e-mail and I did get an interpreter for the one remaining Wednesday session that I really wanted to attend. Once the interpreter was scheduled, the staff did very well day-of–the door staff knew to expect me, made sure I was understanding/lip-reading, and told me the interpreter was present. A member of the event company escorted me inside and told me to sit anywhere, and I met the interpreter, who was great. I just wish this service had been available for the Monday and Tuesday sessions.
For the Dreamforce team, this experience should provide several cues for next year. I hope they’ll learn from their mistakes and that I will be able to access the conference fully. I know that I’ll be hesitant to register unless I have a very firm commitment from Dreamforce around ASL interpretation!
- Give attendees an easy way to make accessibility requests. This would be simple to do both on the registration page, with a link on the main event page, and/or with a way to make requests in the Agenda Builder. A clear policy on accommodations offered would also be great to read on the Dreamforce site before the conference.
- Reserve seating up front for those with accessibility needs. Many of these sessions have huge rooms, so it would be great to know that I could sit up front (at least for any sessions I registered for in advance) to facilitate lipreading if an interpreter wasn’t available. While it’s the best policy to always provide interpreters upon request for full access, this is a good option to provide as a next-best accommodation.
- Confirm interpreter availability before the conference and offer a refund if interpreters are not available. If interpreters are requested and not available, attendees should know and have an opportunity to attend. While I got some value out of Dreamforce, it was greatly reduced and I would’ve appreciated knowing in advance that my request couldn’t be honored and having the option to cancel my trip. Or, if interpreters would only be available for certain times, I would have selected sessions in accordance with that availability.
- Train staff in how to work with Deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees. Dreamforce is not the only culprit on this one, and it always saddens me because it would be such an easy fix. Let volunteers and staff know that there may be Deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees present and particularly if someone identifies themselves as such, it’s important to speak clearly and face the individual in question. Staff should use text-based communication (SMS, e-mail, Twitter) to communicate with the attendee when necessary unless an attendee affirmatively says that he/she/they can use the phone/have an interpreted line.