There is a box on the registration form for conferences and events that most people skip over. Rather than dietary preferences or job title, it asks if attendees have any special access needs.
This box always troubles me.
What I should say is, ‘hello, I don’t see very well and it would be really helpful if I could have electronic copies of the speakers’ slides in advance’.
But experience has taught me that it’s better to leave the box blank.
Maybe it’s because busy speakers want to work on their slides right up to the last moment (I’ve been there) or because HD images and embedded videos mean PowerPoint files have grown too large for many business email accounts to handle - but with a few notable exceptions, slides rarely appear in advance.
Event organisers are apologetic and I feel bad for having caused a fuss by asking in the first place. That’s why I leave the box blank and just accept that I won’t be able to see.
Overnight my world has changed. Live screen sharing, a feature of virtual meeting apps like Zoom, means I can see what everyone else is seeing - viewing presenters’ slides, photos, documents and videos in real time on my own screen, which is set up just how I need it to be.
It’s unfortunate that it’s taken a global pandemic to engineer this small but significant shift. Virtual working offers an opportunity to include disabled people in meetings and events, whether by taking away the obstacle of travelling to places (often a huge challenge for people with mobility difficulties) or by creating more inclusive and democratic ways of running meetings - like live screen sharing.
Once we are through this global pandemic, we will of course take joy in meeting together again face to face. Let’s not lose some of the positive benefits that our period of enforced virtual working has demonstrated.
Research by the RNIB tells us that over the last decade, the proportion of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age in any form of employment has fallen - down from one in three to one in four. This is a shockingly low level of employment and the trend is heading in the wrong direction.
There is huge potential to build a post-Covid culture of employment and work that is more diverse and open to everyone’s contributions. The skills that we are currently learning about how to use virtual meeting technologies and tools will help to underpin this - creating a more inclusive future economy, which will be stronger and more resilient as a result. Let’s not miss this opportunity by falling back Into the old ways of doing things.
Personally, I look forward to ticking the box on registration forms for conferences and events that says ‘do you require live screen sharing?’ My answer will be emphatically, Yes!