I am satisfied with the decision, which I made.
Exactly a week ago I saw, in http://www.whatsup.co.il/, an announcement about a “Business models of Linux and Open Code” track to be held as part of the Go-Linux Q4-2004 conference to be held on Wednesday Dec. 22, 2004.
At this time, this subject is very dear(sic) to me. So I decided I want to participate in the aforementioned track. I registered for the free conference.
I needed to book a Sign Language interpreter or a notetaker to make the conference accessible to me. The service, which provides them to deaf persons, needs at least one week advance notification to be able to find a free interpreter or notetaker. I needed to know the exact hours of the track to be able to book someone for those hours. So I made inquiries. The administrative organizers (People&Computers) were not so cooperative. The technical organizer, whom I contacted (Eli Marmor from netmask.it), was very cooperative.
After troubles, tribulations, cancellations, and cancellation of cancellations, I sent an E-mail message to the organizers announcing that I am canceling my registration. Immediately I got the conference schedule and could at last book someone exactly for the hours which I needed. However, this happened two days before the conference itself.
The service was not successful in finding me a free interpreter or notetaker by the conference time.
Now I had a dilemma: to go there anyway, enjoy only partial accessibility, and at least get some useful information; or to boycott it altogether and forfeit the chances.
After long thought, I decided to give it a chance and to go there anyway.
I also notified the service my plans and that if someone else cancels his Sign Language interpreting assignment, they may send the interpreter to me even at the last minute. I brought a laptop with me just in case a notetaker shows up due to cancellation elsewhere.
No such miracle happened.
I arrived today at 14:00, as planned, because I was interested only in the afternoon lectures. Eli Marmor’s lecture was worth the time, thanks to its having been partially accessible (he lectured with a fairly detailed presentation). It was worthwhile for me to go there for the lecture. I stayed on for the next two lectures, which were accompanied by presentations as well.
Only when the final speaker, Dr. Yossi Vardi, who is a popular speaker in the Israeli Hi-Tech scene, started to speak, did I stand up and leave the conference. He gives lectures without presentations.
The lectures were fully accessible to hard-of-hearing people: the lecturers carried on their person a microphone connected to a small transmitter, which transmits the speech to receivers possessed by hard-of-hearing people in the hall. This was thanks to an hard-of-hearing participant (whom I know) in the conference. He arranged for the lectures to be accessible according to his needs. His job was simpler because all he needed was to bring equipment and get cooperation from the organizers and lecturers. I had to locate a warm body with functioning hands (for either signing or typing).
The accessibility needs of deaf people are different from those needed by hard-of-hearing people.
In an utopia, conference organizers would ask the participants if they need any special accommodations. If yes, the organizers also organize the needed accommodations. According to my experience with Israeli conferences, the formula which works is that the participant with special needs arranges his own accommodations, and the conference organizers do not stand in the way and fulfill small&simple requests.
My problem with the Go-Linux conference accessibility was that I was not given the maximum possible time (a bit less than a week, under the circumstances) for arranging my own accessibility accommodations.
Maybe, if I yelled that this is an emergency for me, I’d get someone. But it would not have been fair for those deaf persons, who have a real emergency (medical or legal).