I speak at a lot of conferences around the world and I’ve been happy to hear a lot of healthy debate around the diversity of the programming community. I really enjoyed and felt inspired by the talk from Joshua Wehner on “Must It Always Be About Sex” at Nordic Ruby and Ruby Lugdunum.
It got me thinking about the issue of accessibility at conferences. I use a wheelchair and happily throw myself at any conference irrelevant of the obstacles. But not everyone is as crazy or as flexible as I am. Once at the conference the organisers are always willing to help but I wonder if we are not excluding disabled people who may dimiss the chance to talk or attend as unfeasible due to lack of information about access. Even if thats only a few people, those people are valuable members of our communities and deserve the chance to participate if they want to.
How would we ever know if we were discriminating, if no-one turns up in a wheelchair we are none the wiser.
I understand conferences are expensive and complicated events to organise. I would ask two small things of every conference organiser:
1. Try and select an accessible venue if possible. For both speakers and attendees.
2. Make it clear on the conference website if the venue, party, hack sessions are accessible or not.
My life was profoundly changed through speaking and attending conferences, in many ways beyond programming. I hope we can make sure anyone who wants that opportunity won’t be put off.