Resources to help create an accessible and successful event.
Conferences are an important space to come together, share research and findings, and to build communities with peers and colleagues, whether in person or online. However, we know that there are inequalities in access to these spaces, as well as exclusionary and sometimes harmful behaviour and practices within them. These issues persist online and in-person. Across the sector, there is essential work being done to address these issues and make conferences as accessible, welcoming and inclusive as possible.
Below is a collation of readings, guidance and resources on this broad theme to raise awareness, inform discussion, and catalyse action. We have organised it by ways we engage with conference:
Organising conferences, seminars and workshops
Organising sessions and workshops within larger conferences
Chairing sessions at conferences
Presenting at conferences
We have also included an overview section compiling critical reflections on conference practice.
This resource is regularly updated with new links and content. Please send any helpful resources you have written or read that you’d like to see added to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Whether you are organising a one-off small workshop, an ongoing seminar series, or a large disciplinary conference (and all events in-between), there are things you can do to make your events more inclusive and accessible. Many of the most important elements lie in the initial decisions you take as you start to plan your event, and you can lay vital groundwork in these very early stages. From the outset, think carefully about the audiences you would like to reach, and what they need from your event, and consider logistics as well as strategic decisions around themes and programming.
Some of the key points to consider include:
Format – online, in-person, or a hybrid approach
Venue or platform – foreground accessibility concerns when selecting where the event will take place (online or in person)
Dates and times – take care that you are not inadvertently excluding people, such as those with caring responsibilities, delegates from certain parts of the world (if online), for example
Programme development and speaker selection – what kinds of sessions are you planning? How widely will your call for contributions circulate? Who will you approach as potential speakers, and are they representative of your communities/the communities you wish to create?
Ticket pricing – how will you cover any costs incurred while not creating unnecessary barriers to attendance?
Policies to establish – such as delegate codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies
Several guides to planning an inclusive conference have recently been published. These take you through planning a conference from start to end. As well as being useful for conference organisers, these resources also contain helpful information for those planning sessions within larger conferences, and for attendees at conferences.
Best practice: developing inclusive conferences, by Alice Chautard and Dr Claire Hann, University of Oxford (PDF, further details here), and top ten tips here: https://reachwater.org.uk/new-best-practice-guide-to-inclusive-conference-launched/
All welcome: A guide to inclusive, accessible and sustainable events, by the British Academy of Management and Chartered Association of Business Schools (PDF, further details here) (includes specific guidance on neurodiversity and supporting neurodiverse participants)
Creating inclusive conference for academics with caring responsibilities, by Emily Henderson (PDF, see also Conference Inference blog below)
Trudie Walters’ guide to organising accessible and inclusive conferences has a useful framework of: physical accessibility, financial accessibility and cognitive accessibility.
There are useful sections on conferences and accessible practices in Making Academia More Accessible, by Nicole Brown, Paul Thompson, & Jennifer Leigh (PDF)
How to Make Your Virtual Meetings and Events Accessible to the Disability Community, by Alaina Leary
Towards Accessible Conferences: A Conversation, Scholarly Kitchen
Opening Up the Possibilities for an Accessible AAG, by American Association of Geographers (USA) - A discussion around enhancing inclusion of attendees with disabilities at AAG meetings
Updating “What Should a Conference Cost?”: Lessons Learned from Another Year of Online Meetings, by Mark Carden – this is a follow-up to What should a conference cost? and includes useful reflections on where the move to hybrid events may take our communities and events.
Professional standards and codes of conduct
Many conferences have codes of conduct, which set expectations for professional and respectful behaviour. They also establish reporting measures for when these codes are contravened. Below are some examples you might wish to adapt or draw upon; your own institutions and/or chosen venue may also already have these in place.
The RGS-IBG code of conduct sets out the principles of behaviour that govern all Fellows and members, volunteers, staff, and anyone who participates in any Society event or activity (this includes all RGS-IBG Research Group events). There is also a specific code of conduct in place at the Society’s Annual International Conference.
Other examples include:
Guidance issued by the AAG ahead of their 2019 annual meeting
The EGU General Assembly code of conduct
Imperial College London’s conference policy, which covers both conferences organised by Imperial staff or students, or conferences held on College premises
See also the AAG’s 2019 Harassment-Free AAG Survey (PDF)
You may find yourself tasked with organising sessions within a much larger event, in which you have no control over some of the key decisions (such as dates and times, the conference format or venue, etc.). However, there are still important things you can do to make your session(s) as inclusive as possible.
The above resources for conference organisers[LINK] are still helpful, particularly the sections which focus on programme development and speaker selection:
See ‘Programme development and speaker selection’ in Best practice: developing inclusive conferences, by Alice Chautard and Dr Claire Hann, University of Oxford (PDF, further details here),
Look at ‘1. Diversifying participants’ in All welcome: A guide to inclusive, accessible and sustainable events, by the British Academy of Management and Chartered Association of Business Schools (PDF, further details here)
Read all the information shared by the main conference organisers, particularly in the call for contributions, and any statements they’ve made around inclusivity. Is there anything missing? If you alert them to this, especially early on in the conference process, they may be able to address it.
Consider the kinds of conversation you want to enable in your session, and how you might facilitate these. What format might work best? You are not limited to the standard 4 ‘paper’ presentations plus Q&A. See our guidance on conference session formats [LINK]
Think about who you could invite to participate, and consider also circulating a wider call for contributions. Who isn’t normally part of the conversation, and how can you support them to be in the room (physical or virtual)?
Make sure to collect information from your session participants around any accessibility requirements they may have. Where appropriate, alert the main event organisers to these – if they are doing their job properly, there should be ways to include this information when you submit your programme information (if not, tell them).
Check the conference website or information for details of any schemes that might benefit your session contributors, such as fee waivers, and encourage them to apply if eligible and/or support their applications.
If you encounter an inclusivity or accessibility issue, let the main event organisers know, as early in the process as you can. The sooner you alert them, the more likely they will be able to do something about it. And if it can’t be addressed for this event, your feedback means they can take it into account for future event planning.
The feminist conference panel as a site of revision, collaboration, and connection, by Erica Delsandro, Jennifer Mitchell, Laurel Harris, & Lauren Rosenblum
Session chairs play a key role in creating inclusive and productive conference spaces, in which participants are given equal opportunity to speak. Chairs set the tone and expectations for the session, and you can shape how discussion goes, not only by keeping presentations to time but also by who you call on to ask questions. Research shows that the first question asked matters in setting the tone in a session and the diversity of contributors to discussion.
See the section on ‘Encouraging “inclusive” participation’ in Best practice: developing inclusive conferences, by Alice Chautard and Dr Claire Hann, University of Oxford (PDF, further details here),
The section on ‘Fair sharing’ in All welcome: A guide to inclusive, accessible and sustainable events, by the British Academy of Management and Chartered Association of Business Schools (PDF, further details here) is also very helpful.
Caring Chairing: Tips for Effective Chairing in Online Spaces, by Sinead Murphy
Chairing is caring (Johan Edelheim)
We will be adding further resources here as we develop guidance for our session chairs ahead of annual conference 2022.
As an attendee at conferences, you should familiarise yourself with guidance provided by the conference organisers. In particular, you should read any code of conduct and make sure to abide by it – this is usually a condition of having a contribution accepted for the programme and/or registering to attend.
If you have any accessibility requirements, please do let the event organisers know – usually at the point of registration or when submitting a contribution for the programme. Make use of the forms and/or channels provided.
If you encounter an inclusivity or accessibility issue, whether it affects yourself or others, let the main event organisers know, as early in the process as you can. The sooner you alert them, the more likely they will be able to do something about it. And if it can’t be addressed for this event, your feedback means they can take it into account for future event planning.
If you are presenting at the conference, there are things you can do to make your presentation as accessible as possible:
Can you see my screen? Tips for Online Academic Presentations, by Katie Tindle
The Heritage Fund has published this introductory guide to online accessibility which has useful good practice guidance for putting together presentation materials.
There is a wide and growing literature on critical reflections on conference spaces and practices, including in the context of moving to online and hybrid conferences. These include:
Key resource - Conference Inference: Run by Emily Henderson and Jamie Burford, this is a blog which critically engages with conferences as spaces and practices and which considers multiple elements of conferences. It features regular guest posts and provides a wealth of information and resources across a number of key topics.
Of particular interest for thinking about inclusive conference practice are the series of posts tagged inequalities of access and experience.
(dis-)Belonging bodies: negotiating outsider-ness at academic conferences (2019), Catherine Oliver and Amelia Morris.
Missing objects and silenced voices: Power relations in online conferences, Bing Lu (this is particularly important for the concepts introduced of ‘acquaintance power’ and ‘authority power’)
Online conferences: opening opportunities or reproducing inequalities, Catherine Oliver
Post-pandemic conferences: academic networks and changing conference spaces, Catherine Oliver
Virtual Conferences Aren’t as Accessible as You Might Think, by Krystal Napier
Benefits and challenges of attending academic conferences for doctoral students in Global South contexts, by Caroline Agboola, Helen Linonge-Fontebo, & Sahmicit Kumswa (with particular emphasis on the barriers caused by visa denial and/or difficulties and funding limitations, and the importance of bursary schemes)
Conferencing “disabled style”, by Nicole Brown
Featured image: @you-x-ventures/Unsplash
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