It’s conference season! This week, some readers may be traveling to New Orleans to gather with our fellow evaluators at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference, while others might be in Boston for the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference.
I am writing to you from my home office.
This is the first year in 8 years that I have not been at the main AEA event. As someone who is immunocompromised, I am still masking indoors and avoiding crowded spaces. Joining in person this year is not safe for me. It is a decision I wish I did not have to make, but a boundary I need to hold to protect my health and safety.
I moved through all five phases of grief when making this decision. Each email I received inviting me to a social event or to share a meal during the conference brought joy, sadness, and a lot of FOMO.
I am both comforted and saddened to know that I am not alone in this experience. As I talked with colleagues, I heard many reasons for not attending AEA and other conferences this year, including:
- Being immunocompromised or disabled, and concerned about contracting Covid
- Caring for an immunocompromised or disabled child, partner, parent, or friend
- Being pregnant or trying to get pregnant, and concerned about potential illness
- Needing child care or adult care for family members during the event
- Having concerns about health and safety related to local or state policies in the conference city
- High cost of attendance, including registration, travel, and hotel
- Trying to reduce their carbon footprint by limiting personal and work travel
- Having insufficient paid time off from an employer
Through these stories, I realized even more deeply how power and privilege intersect with the decision and ability to attend conferences. And I wonder why? Why is professional development a privilege? Whose voices are being elevated and whose are being silenced? How can we co-create a new future for our gatherings?
We are experiencing concurrent health, economic, and political crises that require us to rethink our practices. We must consider how to create more accessible, equitable, and inclusive spaces. We must shift the focus away from individual responsibility to the collective good. We must also ask ourselves why we are gathering, who is benefiting from this practice, and what values and systems we are upholding.
Many things need to be re-imagined to create more intentional spaces. As we continue this learning and unlearning, here are just a few ways that we can make our gatherings more welcoming:
- Be transparent about the decision-making behind planning, such as pricing and policies
- Institute public health mitigation measures such as providing free masks, Covid tests, and clear protocols for attendees who may get sick before or during the event
- Provide attendees with a conference accessibility guide
- Host hybrid events so that attendees can fully participate, regardless of ability to travel
- Include synchronous and asynchronous content through live and recorded sessions
- Provide sign language interpretation and closed captioning
- Build in ample time for attendees to travel from one session space to another
- Offer a diversity of seating options and open spaces for attendees
- Provide lactation spaces and sensory rooms
- Include dedicated respite and healing spaces for attendees who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color
- Ensure that the location has accessible and all-gender restrooms
- Allow presenters to apply and participate in their native language
- Require presenters to use a microphone
While I am still deeply saddened about not attending this year’s in-person AEA conference, you will find me and chatting about the livestreamed sessions on social media (#Eval22).
I’ll also be at the virtual Eastern Evaluation Research Society conference in April 2023 – Pivoting, Priorities, and Possibilities: Evaluation In Turbulent Times. Submit a proposal for #EERS23 by December 2, 2022. Hope to see you there!
Each Rad Resource provides steps and considerations to create more inclusive events.
- Holding inclusive events: A guide to accessible event planning
- Accessible conference guide
- Ten simple rules to host an inclusive conference
- What it takes to run a great hybrid meeting
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