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Inclusive Design Creates Better Conferences

By / Nov 15, 2018 (via the Adobe MAX Facebook page)

Consumer-technology companies like Microsoft, Google, and Adobe often employ inclusive design to ensure that everyone can use their products. Similar elements can also be used in planning and executing conferences.

Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I recently started reading Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design.

In it, author Kat Holmes, director of UX Design at Google and founder of the inclusive design firm Kata, discusses how design can both lead to and remedy exclusion. Along the way, she shares stories about people who are considered innovators in the field of inclusive design—all while making the case that inclusion is not only a source of innovation and growth but also a boost for an organization’s bottom line due to the expanded customer base that often comes with it.

While Holmes’ role at Google—and her previous one at Microsoft as principal director of inclusive design—focused on mass-scale consumer technology like Xbox and Windows, the concept of inclusive design can be applied to many things, including conferences.

For instance, Matt May, who serves as Adobe’s head of inclusive design, helps the software developer apply inclusive design principles not only to its products but also to its live events.

One of those events is Adobe MAX, which brought more than 12,000 graphic designers, illustrators, and photographers to Los Angeles last month. This year, thanks to the work of May and many others on the team, the conference had an increased focus on accessibility and inclusivity.

In an interview with BizBash, May outlined some of the new steps Adobe took.

One was to ask all attendees during the registration process whether they had accessibility requirements. “Asking that question and expressing your willingness to accommodate is so important,” May said. “You are inviting people to say, ‘Listen, this is what I want and need.’ The more detailed you can be in the registration process, the better the outcomes are going to be for everybody that’s involved.”

Anyone who marked down a special requirement received a personal phone call from the Adobe team, who then worked with the attendee to provide what was needed—whether a personal sign language interpreter or special transportation to offsite events.

Adobe also created a code of conduct for the conference to ensure that MAX was a welcoming place for everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or economic status.

“How do you ensure that attendees are not going to be harassed or assaulted?” May said. “That is a really important aspect of inclusion. … People need to feel safe in spaces that we make for them.”

Ultimately, May told BizBash that he hopes the event industry will come together and establish some clear standards for inclusivity.

“Across the industry, there should be some concept of, ‘This is what we expect a venue to deliver to us, these are the responsibilities that organizers are taking on to make sure these things are accounted for,’” he said.

For associations, most of which don’t have the resources of companies like Adobe and Microsoft, a dedicated director of inclusive design will likely remain a dream. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to ensure that you’re hosting conferences that are focused on accessibility and inclusivity. After all, it’s up to you to make sure that every attendee feels included and welcome.

How does your association use inclusive design in planning its conferences and events? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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