:: When you make your talk accessible, disabled people will know that this talk is one that anticipated their presence, that wanted their presence.

Header Image Alt-Text: A photograph of a one-by-eight yellow lego piece held by a thumb and forefinger. The background is black. The piece has a series of holes in the side. The final hole has been drilled out to make it slightly larger than the others. 

This post is Part 3 of 3 in a series of blog posts I’ve written this week about disability accommodation, accessibility, and finally, conferences. In the first post, I pointed out the massive difference between accommodation and accessibility:

Accommodation. A long, arduous word. And what does it mean? Meeting the needs of? Assisting? Making extra space for? That’s it. It means extra. Doing something extra.

In the second post:

Accessibility, alternatively, means that a space is always, 100% of the time, welcoming to people with disabilities. Accessibility means that “accommodations” are integrated into a space and are not particularized to an individual—but rather created for our society as a whole. We, as a society, are people with disabilities. Therefore we, as a society, build spaces and procedures for people with disabilities.

At the end of the second post, I linked to the accessibility guide of the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication (the CCCC or the “4-Cs”) as a model for creating an accessible space.

I’ll be giving a talk at CCCC in Houston, this Friday at 8am. Given the preposterous time of my concurrent panel, hardly anyone, I expect, will be there.

(Sidebar: Just in case you super want to come see me talk, it’s panel F.23, “Writing for Action, Writing for Change,” Hilton, Room 343A, Level Three.)

Despite my low expectations for turnout, I spent time carefully preparing my talk. I prepared three things: a slide deck, a handout that is essentially a script of the presentation I intend to give, and a 2-page handout with other resources pertaining to my talk.

I then printed my slides and both handouts in large format (the handouts in a sans-serif, 18-point font). All of these materials are uploaded to the conference website and can be downloaded. When I deliver my talk, I will provide a rich description of each slide in my deck. (These rich descriptions are included on the script handout.) I printed 100% of my handouts in an accessible fashion—I didn’t print any in small print.

These are the steps that I take to ensure that all of my talks are accessible to anyone who comes to hear me, even when I don’t anticipate anyone—at all—coming to hear me (because, for example, my talk is at 8am on a Friday).

I do not know whether anyone in my audience will have a hearing impairment. I do not know whether anyone in my audience will have a visual impairment. I do not know whether anyone in my audience will have any disability that will require my talk be accessible.

But, if it turns out my panel does have an audience, the likelihood that someone in the audience will have a disability is actually quite high—1 in 5 is the going rate these days.

And because of the small amount of work that I have undertaken to improve my talk, no attendees in my audience will have to out themselves and their disabilities to ask for accommodations. For example, I will not ask this question: “Does anyone need a large-print handout”—because all of my handouts are large print.

When you make your talk accessible, disabled people will know that this talk is one that anticipated their presence, that wanted their presence.

I didn’t just come up with this stuff out of my own head. Composing Access is a website authored by a group of CCCC members that provides “various ideas for ways to enhance accessibility at conferences.” This website is GENIUS. There’s great handouts you can download for how to make your talk more accessible. There are videos. There are more resources than most conference-goers or organizers would know what to do with (ahem Association of Writers and Writing Programs).

Creating an accessible talk for audiences members who might have disabilities is a good enough reason for you to make your talk accessible. But an accessible talk isn’t just good for people with disabilities. Here’s what happens for the rest of you when you make your talk accessible.

First, you make a better talk. What’s the second worst thing that can happen during a panel presentation? When a speaker goes too long. Wow, that is so annoying. It’s annoying for the audience and for the other panelists. Literally no one likes it when someone goes too long. (I’m reserving the actual worst thing for something I haven’t thought of yet. I’m a lawyer. I hedge.) When you force yourself to write a script of your talk—even if you don’t stick exactly to your script—you force yourself to figure out everything you want to say in advance. And when you know what you want to say, you make a better talk. You don’t end up with “Just one more point to make” and run over time.

Second, you make a better slide deck. Have you ever forced yourself to write a description of your slides? Let me tell you, that exercise forces you to improve your slides A LOT. Writing a verbal description of a visual slide forces you to have this conversation with yourself: “Wow, a typo. Do I really have six bullet points? Do I NEED six bullet points? Why did I pick such an ugly graphic?”

Third, you model accessibility to others. Most conference attendees probably have no ideas about what the best practices are for preparing and delivering talks. If you deliver an accessible talk—and state at the outset that you are doing so—others can learn from you.

And then, the 1 in 5 of us who have a disability don’t have to ask for special accommodations. Instead, the conference will already be accessible for everyone. 


Read this article now in DISABILITY ACTS Magazine: disabilityacts.com.


(c) 2017

If you enjoyed this piece, you will enjoy my book, LIFE OF THE MIND INTERRUPTED: ESSAYS ON MENTAL HEALTH AND DISABILITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION, available at lifeofthemindinterrupted.com. Buying my books is a great way to support the online writing that I do for free.

Thank you.


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