SIGCHI: A Promising Practice in Increasing Accessibility in Professional Organizations and Conferences
The Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI) is the world's largest organization dedicated to the study of how humans interact with interactive technologies. In 2011, the SIGCHI Executive Committee began discussing ways to become more inclusive of researchers and practitioners with disabilities. Two complementary forces drove this initiative: (1) members of the SIGCHI Executive Committee recognized that the SIGCHI community could be more inclusive of practitioners and researchers with disabilities and that improvements were possible and (2) a number of SIGCHI community members with disabilities began documenting and actively sharing areas where improvements could be made.
In consultation with AccessComputing and with the ACM Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing (SIGACCESS), two general categories of accessibility consideration emerged as key, but separate, issues. The first was digital accessibility related to websites and digital resources. The second was physical accessibility relating to conference locations, hotels, and presentations.
Preliminary steps taken to facilitate communication, raise awareness of issues, and increase informed representation and advocacy of inclusive practices, included:
- before SIGCHI's flagship conference in 2013, the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, better known as "CHI", a new email alias was created, focused specifically on reporting problems related to accessibility at the conference (email@example.com). This email list was announced online through email distribution lists and introduced at the Town Hall meeting at the conference itself;
- questions related to accessibility experience at the CHI 2013 conference were added to the post-conference survey; and
- the CHI 2014 conference chairs created two new positions on the conference committee to represent the two key accessibility areas identified: a digital accessibility chair and a physical accessibility chair.
Since then, additional actions have been taken. In 2014, the digital accessibility chair focused on the accessibility of the CHI web site and mobile app, as well as the formatting of digital library submissions (CHI papers). AccessComputing staff was centrally involved in these efforts. In order to ensure physical access, CHI 2014 online submission forms were modified to explicitly request that authors of accepted papers and notes indicate whether presenters attending the conference will need any type of disability related accommodations. Further, interally-developed checklists for assessing conference and hotel facilities were adopted by the SIGCHI Conference Management Committee to aid in future selection of conference sites. SIGCHI published their Accessible Conference Guide in August of 2019 "for organizers of academic conferences who wish to make their events as accessible as possible."
While improving the inclusiveness of SIGCHI is a long-term goal, progress has been made towards that goal. This is a promising practice in increasing the accessibility of professional organizations and conferences because they have engaged with stakeholder organizations and are working to create institutional change over time by implementing additional changes each year.