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Thomas Nadelhoffer

Quick question: As someone who organized two of the first online philosophy conferences (albeit nearly ten years ago at this point), I was curious whether you thought that moving towards more online conferences represented a movement towards inclusivity? It seems like hosting conferences online addresses a number of the accessibility issues you mention in this post. So, while I realize some people prefer "in person" conferences, perhaps online conferences are more equitable and accessible. Just a thought...

Shelley Tremain

Online conferences are a way to avoid many of the practices that at present make most philosophy conferences inaccessible to a variety of disabled philosophers. As you note, however, people like face-to-face contact; thus, it is not at all likely that conferences which people would actually attend will be replaced by online conferences any time soon. So, I would be concerned to see a two-tier system develop whereby some conferences are taken online and other conferences continue to operate as they have, that is, continue to be inaccessible. In such a case, there would be (online) philosophy conferences in which anyone could participate and other philosophy conferences in which only some could participate (as is currently the case), with the former conferences regarded as inferior substitutes for the latter.

A better solution is for conference organizers to become informed about what they need to do to increase the accessibility of their event(s) and for all members of the philosophical community to learn what role they can play in efforts to increase accessibility for disabled philosophers. Indeed, philosophers should recognize that informing themselves about ableist practices is an important and necessary part of the work they should do on themselves to become better citizens of the field and of society at large. Exclusion of disabled people and ableism more generally are grievous systemic social problems that philosophers should want to try to understand and work to alleviate.

With respect to philosophy conferences, there are a number of things that can be done that require little money and minimal effort, but which would make a difference, in some cases, a big difference. Directional signage is one. Mandatory use of microphones is another. Name tags is another. I think Shen-yi Liao and Aaron Meskin have started a great thing, but there is a long way to go. I was very happy to have received some inquiries stemming from this post about conference accessibility from Helen Beebee and others who genuinely want to change things for the better.

Thomas Nadelhoffer


Thanks for your reply. I wasn't trying to advocate for a two-tiered system whereby some conferences were online and accessible while other more traditional conferences remained inaccessible. I was simply asking whether you shared my sense that online conferences are free of some of the accessibility issues that (unnecessarily) arise when it comes to traditional conferences.

That said, you mention three easy and inexpensive things conferences organizers can do to make their conferences more accessible (namely, directional signage, microphone usage, and name tags). Are there other relatively easy fixes? If so, what are they? If there is already a helpful guide that you (or someone else) have published, please let me know. I agree with you that more can and should be done (and that making these changes is a moral imperative made all the more pressing by just how simple the changes usually are).

Shelley Tremain

Hi Thomas.
thanks for your query. Let me first clarify my mention of the use of microphones. When I mentioned the importance of the use of microphones, I wasn't talking only about their use by the formal presenters in conference sessions. I was referring to anyone who addresses the room in a session. Q&A periods must be facilitated with microphone usage. This is so important. In Q&A sessions, there should be a stationary questioner's mike or a roaming mike or mikes. Philosophers who want to address the speakers with a question or comment should be made to use mikes and, if they refuse, they should be seen to have forfeited their opportunity to speak. In a session of a feminist philosophy conference last August at which I gave a paper, a relatively prominent feminist philosopher repeatedly refused to use a mike, insisting that everyone in the room could hear her. How would she know that? In another session at the same conference, feminist philosopher of science Sandra Harding, who is hard-of-hearing, had to TWICE ask questioners to repeat themselves because a roaming mike was not available in the session.

There are so many adjustments that philosophers who organize conferences and the philosophers who attend them need to make in order that philosophy conferences will become more accessible to disabled philosophers. The changes need to be made from the bottom up, that is, there are changes that should be made from the planning stages, through the promotion stage, and on to the actual event. PhD(isabled) put together a list that concerns some of the issues with respect to the planning stages. That can be found in the archive at the site, though I have it saved somewhere and could link to it if I find it. There are other lists available online and I can offer some additional information in subsequent posts. But, for now, let me offer some information about Powerpoint presentations, given some of the photos that I saw on facebook of last week's Central APA.

Powerpoint presentations have the potential to improve the accessibility of conference sessions; or they can increase the inaccessibility of conference sessions. That is, conference presentors can improve the accessibility of their session or limit the accessibility of the session depending on how they design and use their Powerpoint presentations. Powerpoint presentations can improve access for deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deafened philosophers, but be a source of exclusion for blind philosophers and philosophers with low vision. To mitigate the latter, presenters who use Powerpoint need to provide oral descriptions and summaries of the content of their slides, reading verbatim brief quotes and remarks, avoiding the use of longer quotes that they won't feel inclined to read, describing images. The most legible and readable slides of text have a black background with white text (there are some rare exceptions to this rule.) My hope is that the sorts of measures I describe will become standards of the profession.

Shelley Tremain

I just want to point out again that my article "Introducing Feminist Philosophy of Disability" provides an "accessibility audit" (of sorts) of the APA, addressing issues of inclusion and accessibility to and at APA conferences, the APA website, the APA committee structure, and so on. Furthermore, the article addresses a range of issues with respect to the inclusion/exclusion of disabled philosophers and the homogeneity of the profession more generally. The article can be read on my page or by clicking on the link "Feminist Philosophy of Disability" in the side bar on the left of the screen.

Nick Byrd

I am interested hosting online conferences, so I am interested in exploring ways to optimize access to online conferences. My thoughts so far:
- offer transcripts of talks that are presented via video.
- make sure to index and describe images/diagrams in the body of a post or else in the alt. text.

Other ideas?

Shelley Tremain

Thanks for your query. I have some suggestions at the moment. Thomas might have others, since he has actually run online conferences.

An alternative to transcripts: caption talks given via
video. Ensure that everything is easy to navigate, that links and sections are clearly identifiable, that any pdfs and indeed the conference site in general are compatible with screen readers. I hope these suggestions are useful to you.

Helen Beebee

I don't know whether there is anything similar in other countries, but at least some universities in the UK appear on, which provides pretty detailed info on the accessibility of various university buildings (sizes of lifts, availability of loop system, proximity of parking, locations of disabled bathrooms, etc.). I'm guessing not many people know about this, because I didn't until I said to my uni's head of equality and diversity that it would be good for such info to exist and he pointed out that it already does. So one *really easy* thing to do is to link to the relevant venue guide(s) in one's conference announcement/CfP. That doesn't sort *everything*, obviously, but it seems like a step in the right direction.

Shelley Tremain

Thanks for the great suggestion, Helen.

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