"August 17, 2015
"Dear Conference Attendee:
AWP welcomes constructive commentary on how we can improve our services to all conference attendees, no matter where the conference is held. Recently, we received inquiries concerning accommodations for conference attendees with accessibility needs."
(See also: https://www.awpwriter.org/magazine_media/writers_news_view/3812/response_to_members_concerns )
My email to AWP:
March 3, 2014
Subject: Accessibility for future conferences
Dear AWP Conference Organizers,
I am aware that there are some writers who have attended your conference that had issues aside from wheelchair accessibility. I suspect there are more who either don't come or don't speak up because they are uncertain, as I often am, if their particular issues could be accommodated and because they feel some pressure to look "professional." While this doesn't affect me personally since I'm not a member, I do have a resource you might appreciate from another type of conference and how they handle various types of accommodations and signal to their attendees that they are ready and eager to do so. (I am more likely to request an accommodation if I see that there has been some thought put into my particular needs already so that I am not being "a bother.")
Just one of the issues that they've provided for is people who may get overwhelmed by the amount of sensory stimulation and people, those who have panic attacks, agoraphobia, claustrophobia and so on. I am aware that one of your attendees had this issue and my own adult daughter does too. Here is how WisCon talks about and accommodates people with this issue:
"WisCon is an energetic, some say wacky, environment. Finding stimulation is easy: here are options for managing stress and sensory overload.
"If you need quiet immediately, take an elevator to floors 7 through 11. The elevator lobbies there have comfortable chairs and usually no people.
"We've created the Quiet Place for those of us who need a break during the con. It's a small dark room on the 2nd floor between conference 1 and 2, with room for up to six members, furnished with comfy chairs, padded benches, footstools and a toilet. It's a good place to catch your breath, listen to your heartbeat, ruminate, and contemplate. The Quiet Place works when we respect its boundaries: please, no talking within. If there's someone waiting for a space, yield yours after 30 minutes. Breastfeeding mothers are welcome in the Quiet Place."
While it is not possible, as WisCon itself notes, to perfectly accommodate everyone given some have conflicting needs, it is possible to make the experience a great deal less stressful and allow people who may be new to their disability and asking for accommodations to feel very welcome to do so. I know I've gone through a lot of stages in my own adjustment to requesting disability access. And when a site seems to indicate that they've only thought about wheelchair access I am hesitant to bother them with special requests.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter. I am sure you want to make your conference comfortable and open to everyone. It's difficult to think of every situation and often requires a panel of people with disabilities (as I believe contributed to WisCon's policies).