At OpenCon 2016, participants were encouraged to attach a ribbon to their conference badge indicating which gender pronoun they prefer (he, she, they, etc.), which were provided at the registration desk. We included pronoun ribbons to make OpenCon more inclusive of all genders. More information about pronoun ribbons, including the template for the ribbons we used, can be found here: http://www.pronounribbons.org/
When registering for the conference, participants are asked to submit any information about dietary restrictions (food allergies, preferences, or religious restrictions). This is taken into account when ordering meals and catering for participants. Vegetarian options are also included in a when providing participants with a map of restaurants in the area.
We would recommend ordering more vegetarian/vegan options than required, as they can be eaten by most participants and can help ensure you don’t run out of meal options for participants with many dietary restrictions. All foods should be clearly and accurately labeled, and consider posting the menu in the online schedule so that people can plan ahead. Make sure that there is easy access to drinking water throughout the day in the venue.
The conference registration can also encourage participants to submit information about allergies and other chemical sensitivities. If required, organizers could address these sensitivities as necessary; for example, by making the conference a fragrance-free space. This can be done by asking for people minimize or not use scented products (e.g. perfume, heavily scented lotions, etc.) in pre-conference communications. This will create a safer and more comfortable experience for those with allergies and chemical sensitivities.
In order to create a space that’s inclusive of participants who are parents bringing along small children to the conference, certain additions to the maternity room can be made. Suggestions taken from this article on child friendly conferences might include:
These are not currently measures we put in place at OpenCon, we are sensitive that people have these needs, and are willing to help provide support within our means.
Most of the OpenCon nighttime social events include alcohol consumption. As we learned during the conference itself in 2016, some participants may not be able to sit a table where someone is consuming alcohol, for religious or personal reasons. In future years, we will ensure there are spaces at receptions where alcohol is not being consumed. We will also explore the option of incorporating alcohol-free events into the evening program.
Provide clear text and image instructions on how to get to the conference venue (and other relevant conference locations, e.g. if participants will be staying at a designated hotel). Make sure these instructions are print-friendly (and not just a link to a Google Map). Try to know in advance whether any participants have mobility needs and will require alternative transportation arrangements (e.g. arranging for a shuttle between hotel and venue, booking a hotel closer to the venue, etc.) This information can be collected in the conference registration form, or in a pre-conference email.
Although many Western organizers generally avoid scheduling events or conferences on traditionally Christian holidays, such as Easter or Christmas, organizers should also be mindful of religious holidays and observances for non-Christian religions as well.
While we encourage conference planners to design their event in a way that is accessible as possible, participants should also be asked about any specific accessibility needs in advance. This could be done through a pre-conference email or collected through a question in the conference registration form.
Depending on your budget, information collected could include specific access needs (e.g. sign language interpreters, transcription, visual impairments), health requests, and dietary constraints. Offer the option of discussing accessibility needs over the phone; this can minimize forming assumptions about the needs of the participant.
For those receiving travel scholarships, we strongly recommend that any additional travel costs incurred due to accessibility considerations be covered by conference organizers—not the participant.
In some regions (e.g. Canada, United States, Australia, etc.), conversations around diversity should also include conversations around the region’s colonial history as well as the effects of colonialism on Indigenous communities in the present-day. A land acknowledgement prompts conference organizers and participants to reflect on the land the conference/event is taking place on. It is a “formal statement that recognizes the unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories” (Laurier Students' Public Interest Research Group: Know the Land Territories Campaign).
While a land acknowledgement is by no means comprehensive for rebuilding relationships with Indigenous communities, it is a first step in honoring Indigenous communities, as well as recognizing a region’s colonial past and present. There are a number of institutions that provide published land acknowledgements that other event organizers can use, that have been composed in consultation with Indigenous communities. For North Americans, native-land.ca provides a good starting point for learning more about the history of a particular region. More resources and information on land acknowledgements can be found at: http://www.lspirg.org/knowtheland/ — although the specifics will differ from region to region. This is not something we currently do at OpenCon, but are committed to taking into account for future meetings.
We found that it was helpful to have essential supplies on site, including over-the-counter medicine (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.), first aid supplies, feminine hygiene products, and snacks between sessions for participants. It is also helpful to note the nearest walk-in medical facility, in case the need arises.
Make sure that adequate breaks are provided throughout the day to accommodate those with health needs. We’ve found that a full half-hour break in both the morning and afternoon as well as an hour for lunch provides reasonable downtime and space for informal interactions, which are often one of the most productive aspects of the conference. If sessions are running long, we would encourage organizers to protect breaks rather than shortening them.
Some conference participants may not want their photo taken. Consider integrating an opt-in policy for participants to give their consent to have their photo taken (and used for conference social media and subsequent promotional materials). One way to do this is to ask participants to indicate whether they are okay with being photographed through color-coded lanyards. This can be communicated to any event photographers in advance. This is not something OpenCon has done in the past, but will be integrating into future meetings.
After the event, identify areas for improvement. Send out an event feedback form that includes a question on whether participant accessibility needs were met.