Making MidCamp more accessible

Submitted by alimac on Wed, 01/14/2015 - 01:10

Even though it's still two months away, I know that MidCamp 2015 (March 19 - 22) is going to be special. The venue hosting MidCamp this year is the University of Illinois at Chicago. UIC is both my alma mater and present employer. Student Center East (where the training and conference sessions will take place) may be familiar grounds to me, but these days I am looking at it from the perspective of a visitor who is completely unfamiliar with its layout.

UIC Student Center East entrance from Polk and Halsted
UIC Student Center East entrance from Polk and Halsted streets

Venue accessibility

Liz Henry's article Unlocking the Invisible Elevator identifies some of the ways in which conference organizers can be proactive about event accessibility:

Some information is great to have in advance. Maps and explanations of access paths work well. It helps if they’re in web-accessible formats, usable by screen readers, and downloadable.
Some information has to be embedded in your conference venue. Signs should clearly mark the accessible paths. Maps are very helpful so that people can estimate distances; this is a big deal for those of us who are exhausted and in pain. Put maps next to your signs please!

In late November, I did a preliminary walkthrough of Student Center East. I meandered around the building, photographing the main entrance to Student Center East, the location, interiors and paths to elevators, escalators and stairways, major "landmarks" for points of reference, and the conference area hallways and rooms. It may sound a bit like I was casing the place, but I learned about traffic flow, congestion areas and different points of entry to each floor, whether by escalator and stairs or elevator.

Next, I contacted folks from UIC Office of Facility and Space Planning to obtain floor plans for each of the buildings and floors where MidCamp events are going to take place. They were quick to respond and the floor plans I got are very detailed. I annotated them, marking session rooms, elevators, restrooms and possible traffic flow. The annotations will serve as blueprint for locations of signs, as well as written directions that will be posted to the website.

Annotated floor plan with overlaid photos.
Annotated floor plan of Student Center East ground floor, with photos of elevator #6 and escalator overlaid.

This week, MidCamp organizers and I plan to do another walkthrough at UIC. Together we hope to identify and address any accessibility and navigation pitfalls. Photos, annotated floor plans, and navigation information will be posted to the MidCamp website. We want to make sure that there is good information about the venue available ahead of time, as well as informative signs on the spot when you attend MidCamp.

Of course, floor plans and elevators are not the only aspect of conference accessibility. Childcare, real-time captioning, transcripts and captioning of session videos are some of the other ways in which events are made more accessible to diverse audiences. It's a direction that I hope MidCamp will follow.

Anonymized session selection

Another reason why I'm excited about is that MidCamp session submission is now open (it will close on Monday January 19). The session selection committee will pick from anonymized submissions for 20 and 50 minute talks. From the conference website:

  1. A volunteer who is NOT on the selection team will anonymize and remove gendered pronouns from abstracts/bios.
  2. The team will make a first round of selections from the anonymized submissions.
  3. A second round will then make sure we have not selected speakers multiple times (excluding panel participants).

By anonymizing session selection, we hope to give thorough consideration to everyone's proposals without biases ("oh, I know this speaker," or "I've never heard of this speaker"). Having a diverse lineup of speakers from all experience levels is important to us. A few weeks ago, Cathy Theys brainstormed a list of topics spanning social, technical, business, and other aspects of Drupal ecosystem that would be welcome at MidCamp. The list is long, but by no means exhaustive.

Are you on the fence about submitting a proposal? Take a look at the variety of suggestions for topics and fill out the submission form (the deadline is Monday, January 19). I want to see you at MidCamp!

References and resources

Contact me on Drupal.org or on Twitter. -alimac