Conference Accessibility

In September, I had a great conversation about conference accessibility. I speak from the standpoint of someone who is totally blind, but of course I only speak for myself. Other people who are blind have different lived experience; some things may be easier or harder than they are for me. Each of us has things we are comfortable with and things that call to our fears and uncertainty.

These are notes I used to start our conversation, edited to emphasize things I found during the conversation and to hopefully be more clear.

Do not use this as a checklist to see how accessible your conference is! Seriously, I know I'm about to say this in the executive summary, but everyone who has looked at this sits down and tries to figure out how their conference/community stacks up. That's not really the point. We are all volunteers; we have many priorities before us. Unless you're running a conference called Blinded by Kink (and if you are, please reach out and let me know about your event), accessibility for people who are blind or face visual challenges is not your top priority. If you went and focused on all these issues, accessibility in other areas would suffer.

Instead, I invite you to take this as an opportunity to learn about issues people who are different than you might face. After all, the first step in being inclusive is to educate ourselves. But the second step is to actually reach out to the people who we want to include, hear their story, and hear what's important to them. So reach out to the people in your community who face accessibility challenges and ask them what issues are important to them. Focus on those issues. The education is still important in case someone new comes into your community with an issue you have not yet focused on.

Executive Summary

I think the best way to approach accessibility is to educate yourself on the issues, and then to ask people in your community what they need. I’ve talked about what I think some of the likely issues are. To achieve diversity in our community, accessibility needs to be more than participating in a conference; we also need to think about accessibility in terms of how people join our community. Without that, our community will never be welcoming/inclusive for people with disabilities.

Why focus on Asking?

Different people, even with similar abilities, will need different things. For example if I'm bringing my vassal to a conference where she will generally be in service to me most of the time, and where I'm just going to be a participant rather than trying to get involved in the community, I may need close to nothing in terms of accessibility. If you spent a lot of time making something available in braille, I'd feel awkward because I'd have no intent to use it, and you might be frustrated that you went to a lot of effort that didn't end up being helpful. Asking what someone needs, especially when you come from a reasonably educated position about what the answers might be and are able to work with someone is almost always going to help someone feel welcome.

General Accessibility for Visual Disabilities

That said, here are some of the issues that you might want to be prepared to address when they come up in your community.

Website Accessibility

Is your website accessible? Can a screen reader user navigate elements like schedules? Can they register successfully?

Attendee Information

How much of the information attendees need is on your website? Your website is likely to be more accessible to people with visual disabilities than material you hand out at registration. People can use screen readers or zoom in, adjust the color scheme, and adjust fonts, depending on their needs. So, if information like class descriptions and schedule information is on the website it will be more accessible.

For blind attendees, a map of the venue on the website isn't likely to be helpful and I can appreciate why it might be desirable not to leak that information digitally. For low vision attendees being able to zoom the map might be helpful; it depends on the attendee and on whether they have physical magnifiers with them that could zoom a physical map.

Getting Around

How will someone with a visual disability get around the venue? This is an area where someone's ability and comfort affects what will work for them a lot.

What I tend to do when attending a conference alone is something like:

That or some variation has worked well for me, but I have years of experience going to professional conferences on my own. What I described above might be completely frightening for someone with different experience.

Electronic Device Policies

How will someone who cannot write take notes? If the website is part of the accessibility solution, will your policies allow someone to access it when they need to?

This is an area where there are legitimate privacy concerns that go against accessibility. If you aren't going to be as accessible as you would like because of privacy, I'd recommend treating people with compassion. I'd also make sure that your policies, viewed as a whole make sense and achieve your objectives. I'd recommend differentiating policies that make people feel safer from policies that actually achieve safety and privacy. It's a lot easier to understand why my accessibility is being sacrificed for real privacy than it is for security/privacy theater.


Bwahahaha. I have no idea how to approach dungeon accessibility. It's mostly not an issue unless you had two visually disabled people wanting to play together, or someone wanting to self-suspend or similar.

Here are some of the problems I run into:


Are contest rules discriminatory? Do you have reasonable latitude to make accommodations in the moment without say needing to have a board meeting or publish a revised rule book. This is easier to explain with examples:

My point in the two examples is to illustrate that there are classes of cases where the conference/contest has an accessibility responsibility and cases where there's nothing to be done at that level.


The above covers the issues I can think of in terms of making the conference accessible to an individual participant. But when we talk about diversity, the discussion eventually needs to turn to inclusion and creating a welcoming community. These conferences are more than just educational/play opportunities. They are also key parts of our community—opportunities for how you become a member of the community and contribute back.

For us to achieve diversity, people need to be able to do more than just go to classes. They need to be welcomed into the community.

It’s been my experience that we don’t have a good answer for how to welcome blind participants in that way. Everyone’s initial reaction has been a desire to help, but I’ve run into struggles making it happen. To be inclusive this needs to be part of accessibility. I am currently working trying to find answers to these issues.

Volunteering is one of the ways that we gate-keep our community. We have tasks that everyone can do to get involved, get noticed, and get a feel for how things happen. Things like:

Except not everyone can do these things. Most of them involve being able to get around a space without help. Most involve being able to read and write normal printed papers.

Even before we tell people to volunteer, we tell them to watch what goes on. Go to a dungeon; watch a bunch of scenes. Make eye contact with people after to see if they would be open to talking to you about what they did. Once you know people make eye contact to see if people would be open to a conversation about playing or co-topping or joining a scene. All of that involves being able to see well.

I cannot do most of that. And yet there are ways I’d love to contribute:

But the areas where I at least see myself as contributing effectively are all high-level. How do I prove myself? How do I earn trust. As an example how do I gain a reputation sufficient to be accepted as a presenter? How do I get recognized enough that people would suggest I might be a reasonable person to talk to, especially when my disability makes many of the protocols we use for negotiating approachability not work for me? I’m starting to find answers for myself. I’m starting to teach classes in my local communities—branching out from the small communities where I have been working for years. I am looking at the various title contests.

But to create a diverse, inclusive, accessible community, we need to be able to help answer these questions whenever our normal ways of getting involved don’t work for people. I don’t know what that would look like, but I appreciate this opportunity to organize my thoughts about the challenge and start thinking about possible solutions.