Written by Brian Le Lay, University of Minnesota, on behalf of the planning committee
The 2021 RHM Symposium planning committee is devoted to designing an accessible and inclusive virtual experience for attendees, speakers, and presenters. Consistent with the symposium’s “(Re-)Invention” theme, we’re reimagining the inclusive potential of virtual meeting spaces.
Below we share our (always becoming, ever-evolving) understanding of access and our initial action plan for enacting access in plenary sessions, breakout discussions, and working groups.
Access is Intersectional
In the service of the symposium’s commitment to convivial conversation and innovative problem-solving, we’re asking: How will we craft virtual engagements that enable all RHM community members, established and new, to participate fully and meaningfully?
Informed, inspired, and challenged by the category-questioning work of queer/crip activists, writers, and researchers (e.g., Hamraie & Fritsch, 2019; Hubrig et al., 2020; Kafer, 2013; Schalk, 2017; Schalk; 2018; Sins Invalid, 2019), our understanding of access is widely inclusive, encompassing (but not limited to):
- ability difference
- marginalized identities across axes of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and age
- caregiving responsibilities
- time zones
- funding limitations
- increased budgetary constraints due to the pandemic
- academic position
- internet connection speed
- disciplinary perspective
Access as Process, Collective Responsibility, & Dialogue
A few corollaries follow from our understanding of access as intersectional:
- Access is a messy, ongoing, and unpredictably recursive process. We cannot depend on an “access” checklist of general design specs. To make access happen, we must proactively, responsively, and continually (re)align with our community. We will make mistakes and fall short, but we will use those instances as opportunities to listen, reflect, discuss, learn, and improve.
- Access is a collective responsibility. We cannot limit our access efforts to accommodations-by-request, and we cannot expect a few vocal and empowered self-advocates to do this important work alone. To make access happen, we must make it a responsibility shared by all community members and symposium attendees.
- Access is a polyvocal dialogue. We cannot expect an inclusively-designed symposium to emerge piecemeal from individual minds. To make access happen, we must create opportunities for RHM community members to talk to us and to each other about ways to make the symposium experience accessible. Dialogue drives and shapes our process and makes access a collective construction.
To craft virtual engagements that enable all RHM community members, established and new, to participate fully and meaningfully, we have developed an initial plan for enacting access before, during, and after the 2021 RHM symposium.
- Dialogue with the community about the actions we can take to meaningfully prioritize access and inclusion through email, the proposal submission process (which includes questions about inclusion and access), and additional platforms (in progress) to answer questions and discuss the symposium
- Provide resources and guidelines to support attendees in making access and inclusion happen
- Ensure that plenary events feature inclusively-designed materials that can be pre-circulated
- Support working paper group participants to enact accessible document design practices throughout the symposium itself
- Schedule symposium events with multiple time zones in mind (e.g., starting events late-morning)
At the Symposium
- Omit registration fees — in other words, the symposium is free for all attendees
- Begin sessions with access checks
- Provide captioning services throughout the symposium
- Acknowledge the breadth of disciplinary approaches common to RHM and encourage all participants to define key terms/methods/theories
- Ensure working paper groups and discussion sessions include a mix of scholars representing diversity in terms of career stage
- Designate an Accessibility Point Person who will provide support and answer questions during the symposium
- Designate an Access Volunteer per working group to provide support during the symposium
- Provide notes from each discussion and plenary session as well as resources, links, and materials curated during those events
- Circulate a survey to solicit feedback from attendees
Finally, there are elements of our accessibility action plan that we are still thinking about and want to discuss with the community:
- Providing complete transcripts based on captioning services after the symposium
- Hiring sign-language interpreters for small groups
- Trying out new session formats or events
We invite feedback from the community regarding the above items and any other items. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Acknowledgments & Resources
Several resources and on-going conversations in disability studies, writing studies, rhetoric, and technical communication informed the thinking and action items presented here. We acknowledge, amplify, and honor this work and include links (where possible) for further reading:
- Applebaum, L. & Asher, E., (2020, March 20). Ensuring Virtual EventsAre Accessible for All. RespectAbility.
- Brewer, E., Selfe, C. L., & Yergeau, M. (2014). Creating a culture of access in composition studies. Composition studies, 42(2), 151-154.
- Cagle, L. (2020, August 31). Putting Accessibility First at the ARSTM@NCA 2020 Virtual Preconference. Rooted in Rights.
- Composing Access. Co-sponsored by the Committee on Disability Issues in College Composition (CDICC) and the Computers & Composition Digital Press (CCDP).
- Enacting a Culture of Access in our Conference Spaces, Hubrig, A., Osorio, R., Simpkins, N., Anglesey, L. R., Cecil-Lemkin, E., Fink, M., Butler, J., Stremlau, T., Brueggemann, B.J., Anonymous, Jackson, C.A., & Cedillo, C. V. (2020). Enacting a Culture of Access in Our Conference Spaces. College Composition and Communication, 72(1).
- Hamraie, A., & Fritsch, K. (2019). Crip technoscience manifesto. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, 5(1), 1-33.
- Leary, A. (2020, April 28). How to make your virtual meetings and events accessible to the disability community.
- Meloncon, L. (Ed.). (2013). Rhetorical accessability: At the intersection of technical communication and disability studies. Routledge.
- Potts, L, & Salvo, M. J. (Eds.). (2017). Rhetoric and experience architecture. Parlor Press.
- Pullin, G. (2009). Design meets disability. MIT Press.
- Sang, K. (2018, August 31) “With accessible conferences, we lose the voice of disabled academics.” The Guardian.
- Sins Valid. Skin, Tooth, and Bone: The Basis of Movement is Our People.
- Volger, C. (2020). Accessibility Tips for a Better Zoom/Virtual Meeting Experience. Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center
- Walton, R., Moore, K. R., & Jones, N. N. (2019). Technical communication after the social justice turn: Building coalitions for action. Routledge.