Supporting Colorado’s Access and Functional Needs Conference

In mid-April, I had the honor of presenting at and participating in The Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s 2023 Access and Functional Needs Conference. The conference had robust content and took innovative approaches to presenting material. This year’s event was hybrid, with over 120 people from across the country participating in person and 45 people participating remotely from across the nation. 

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us who had previously planned events and presented trainings in person became skilled at producing accessible remote events. Sadie Martinez and her fantastic team embraced producing an event where participants had the option of attending the conference in person or participating remotely. This type of event requires the technical savvy needed for virtual events and the physical logistical skills necessary for an in-person event. While I was assisting in person, my colleague Shaylin was supporting the virtual space.

Immediate pre-conference logistics had to happen on parallel tracks. Sadie's team solved technical issues that arise when you produce an event that is presented on Zoom and has CART captions, ASL interpretation, and Spanish interpretation along multiple time zones. As this was happening, I got to work with the hotel on removing some physical barriers. The diaper changing table in the restroom needed to be prevented from protruding into a toilet stall, waste baskets had to be moved so as not to make it difficult for wheelchair users to exit the restroom, and some narrow restroom doors needed to be propped open with door stops. Sadie’s team was also working on food setup and other details. Throughout the event, they made modifications to increase access based on participant feedback.

In addition to executing a hybrid conference, Sadie and her team took on the challenge of layering interactive sessions into the mix. For example, I was asked to facilitate three consecutive 18-minute sessions for different break-out groups on the topic of independence in disasters. My role was primarily to answer questions and facilitating group members exchanging ideas with each other. At first, this was a bit chaotic because there were no breakout rooms, so three sessions occurred in one large room. The team strategized overnight on how to minimize noise, and the next day, the process was smoother. Sadie acknowledged from the stage how they had learned from the first set of interactive activities and improved them, but still wanted to make them better for next year, and she thanked us for our willingness to experiment.

I would like to thank Sadie and her team for trying new things, taking risks, and never sacrificing access in the process.

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