My name is Brad Drozdowski (he/him), I’m a White, cisgender male music therapist with Institute for Therapy through the Arts, and a proud member of ITA’s conference committee for our 5th Annual Creative Arts Therapy Conference. In November I was asked by our conference committee to begin researching anything and everything about accessible virtual events. This meant reading articles and books, talking with disabled colleagues, reading transcripts and notes from meetings held by disabled community members about accessibility problems at virtual conferences, testing screen readers, researching ASL interpreter services and third-party open caption tools, and reviewing letters of complaint and recommendations sent by disabled colleagues to conference host organizations from past events. Learning about the recommendations and concerns of my disabled colleagues proved paramount to the work. These recommendations yielded ITA a starting place for determining our next steps, which included creating a document outlining our recommendations and aspirations for accessibility for our conference attendees, conference presenters, and for our staff. Previously we had planned to use a host platform for our conference. It was within our budget and offered a number of streamlined, shiny features that would centralize and enhance a conference experience. We learned fast that those luxuries only applied to the able-privileged. After testing our host platform and communicating with their tech support, it became apparent that the platform would not meet our accessibility needs. We chose to sever our ties with the third-party host platform and re-structure the conference to be held on Zoom and hosted on our website. We asked that presenters designate their presentations as accessible for hard of hearing or deaf attendees or visually impaired or blind attendees and provided them with a recommendation and support for meeting our requirements for these designations. Our own responsibilities included making sure that our deadlines for accessible presentation materials from presenters was realistic, that we were making ourselves available to assist, and that we continue to assess the accessibility needs for conference and respond accordingly. We prepared to have two moderators in each session, I planned to make myself available for the entire conference to assist with accessibility needs, and made my own preparations to have an open caption tool and ASL interpreter services for my own presentations. Recently, we approved additional funds to provide for an open caption tool and ASL interpreter services for both our opening panel and keynote sessions. Now, with less than a month left until conference, though there is still a lot to do, I am proud of the work we’ve done so far and find some solace in knowing that we’ve spent months making preparations to offer a more accessible conference.
This work is never done. Accessibility has no goal posts, no finish line. The work goes ever on because our needs are always changing. I aspire with ITA to do this work, knowing that there will always be something to learn, some challenge to face, and some ways that we come up short. Where there is no finish line, there is also no perfect victory, no trophy, no guarantee for success or finality. We will do this work with our community and colleagues and will always strive for a more inclusive and accepting world, knowing well that it will never be complete. We welcome your feedback and suggestions on things we can improve and encourage you to reach out to ITAConference@ITAChicago.org if you have trouble accessing any part of the conference.