It’s a longer, complex story, but here’s the simple version. CHI has been pretty progressive over the past 5 years trying to improve the accessibility of both the event itself and it’s output (e.g., the proceedings). The venue this year was particularly bad (e.g., narrow hallways, difficulty getting to microphones to ask questions, locked doors to accessible restrooms). The steering committee and organizers are well-aware of the broad needs, and have many strategies for trying to anticipate them before the event occurs, but many things are the venue’s responsibility, and it’s often necessary to choose a venue that has accessibility problems (such as this year in Scotland, where there is no ADA-equivalent). The protest was *not* a response to conference organizers ignoring feedback; in fact, the protest was (sort of oddly) happening just outside the room where the town hall was being held to obtain feedback. I was a bit confused why the community didn’t just provide the feedback, rather than stage a protest. Perhaps I’m not aware of some specific organizer being resistant to listening to feedback (though that seems really unlikely), but even then, it seems like the better approach is to just talk to them.

Of course, all of this is in the context of a 100% volunteer run event. So processes are going to break, communication is going to be fragile, stress is going to be high, and people are going to be overworked. That’s not a receipe for perfect events on every dimension. What it does mean is slow incremental progress each year on every dimension, driven by the community’s values, which highly prioritize accessibility.

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.