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AFS Review: Reports

AFS Accessibility Plans Updated for 2019 and Beyond

Thursday, August 1, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman

The AFS Guidelines for Accessible Presentations and AFS’s larger accessibility efforts continue to evolve, as ways to accommodate differences in learning styles, language use, and ability are themselves constantly evolving with new technology, innovation, and shared knowledge.

The AFS Accessibility Committee has led efforts to implement some changes this year and continues to work for further progress in the future. Steps forward for 2019 include: updated Guidelines with tips for sharing digital access copies, expanded tour descriptions for more transparency about accessibility concerns, and more general seating in the hotel lobby. We encourage suggestions at any time to Patricia Sawin and Lorraine Cashman

Explanation of a few issues may help members to understand some of the challenges, and the Society’s ongoing efforts to address them:

  • Since keeping meeting costs as low as possible is an important accessibility issue in itself, AFS continually works to strike a balance between general accommodations and affordability. Currently, AFS prioritizes providing accommodations on an individualized, as-requested basis, as well as any more general steps that can be taken at low cost.
  • The number of hotels and conference venues willing to bid on a meeting of the AFS meeting’s size, within our budget, is limited, as is the time and energy of our small AFS staff. Amenities like plentiful seating in gathering places and short travel distances from hotel rooms to conference rooms are always a priority, but it is rare to find a venue that can perfectly fulfill every desideratum.
  • Sound amplification is a double-edged sword. Our goal is to make sure every person in a meeting room can hear the presentation, but that sound does not bleed through and interfere with activities in adjacent rooms. If your room has a mic, please use it while paying attention to sound levels. If your room does not have a mic, it is because the session is located in a small room, where event management staff have made a judgment that amplification in that room would cause more harm than good.
  • While listening to an oral presentation, audience members may, for a range of reasons, benefit from being able to read a copy of the text (including a copy in large print). We recognize that paper copies are expensive and resource-intensive for short-term use, but they are easy to distribute and retrieve. The revised 2019 Guidelines for Accessible Presentations suggest one possible decentralized alternative to paper copies—putting one’s text into a read-only Google doc—but this option serves only when wifi is available to all attendees. The good news is that wifi will be available in each of the future venues that AFS has already booked, through 2021. In the meantime, the accessibility committee will continue to explore how AFS can best support presenters in providing access copies for those who could benefit while balancing environmental, economic, and practical concerns with presenters’ need to maintain control of their work in process.
  • The repeated call for hotels that use unscented cleaning supplies and offer unscented toiletries will be difficult to satisfy, given that this is not currently the industry standard. In the meantime, those who would benefit from this practice should make the request directly to the hotel, since the hotel may be able to provide accommodation on an individualized basis – and because voicing the need may help change the industry’s perception of market need. Moreover, all attendees can help by observing the long-standing AFS meeting policy that attendees should avoid wearing scented personal products.
  • AFS is aware that lack of access to child care can prevent people from attending or fully benefitting from our meeting, and supports the goal of overcoming that obstacle. However, at this time, AFS lacks the capacity to provide child care. In the short term, the committee intends to find out more about attendees’ child care needs and about possible ways to address them; we welcome your specific suggestions.

The AFS Accessibility Committee thanks all presenters at last year’s meeting for working to follow the new Guidelines for Accessible Presentations and everyone who provided feedback on the guidelines and how to make meetings more accessible.


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