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My Speaking Engagements of Late 2016

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In 2016 there was the highest number of public speaking engagements I have ever given in the past 8 years – in addition to this article, I also mention about my past speaking engagements this year in My Speaking Engagements of Early 2016 and My Presentation on the 26th Anniversary of ADA.

It’s still hard for me to attend events as a deaf professional, to say nothing about being a speaker. Many event organizers resist providing quality communication access services to me as well as to many other deaf and hard of hearing attendees. There’s still a little to no mention about the importance of accessibility as universal design and especially about people with disabilities that make the largest and sadly the most ignored minority and are often excluded even from diversity and inclusion equation. So I appreciate it when more organizations are learning from me and willing to make their events accessible after getting consulting and training from me and having me speak at some of their events.

Many event organizers are surprised to learn how many people – regardless of hearing abilities – like live captioning that is projected on a screen that any audience member (deaf or hearing) can read in addition to listening to presentations. Some organizers were reluctant at first to project captions and told me nobody asked them for this. After explaining that hearing loss is very stigmatized and many people having it would not ask for it or even know about their rights to access and majority of them do not know sign language to understand interpreters, the organizers started to realize how important captioning is as universal access for everyone and needs to be readily provided while also noting that additional communication access services (like sign language interpreters) can be provided on request.

I gave an online presentation about my captioning journey in August and prepared the video that is also captioned. I usually give a presentation in sign language and am voiced by a sign language interpreter, but since I had an option to either prepare my video presentation in advance or do it in real time, I decided to record my presentation. For on-site presentations, I’m usually voiced by sign language interpreters because many captioners cannot understand my speech well enough to capture every word and due to the difference between ASL and spoken English, the words voiced may be different from what I originally plan to use in English. So I used my own voice and sign language for the online presentation and had the video captioned before it was streamed – that way captions would reflect exact words that I said as they are.

In November I made a second trip of this year to Philadelphia where I gave a presentation at ConfabEdu 2016 on “Communication Access in Higher Education: How Serving Deaf People Benefits Everyone”. As someone who is a former deaf student and an employee in higher education and knows many deaf and hard of hearing people, I’m well familiar with frustrations in terms of communication and information access for videos, classes, workshops, events. So I shared my personal story and tips with practical examples of how to improve accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing students, parents, employees, visitors in higher education.

At ConfabEdu I met Kristina Halvorson for the first time in person after reading her posts in social media for years – she runs Brain Traffic and Confab events. I was pleased when she made efforts to use fingerspelling to communicate with me when she first saw me at a reception for speakers (before an interpreter arrived – I came early). She told me that she learned it as a Girl Scout. I was impressed that she still remembered fingerspelling and also did it smoothly. I was also pleased when Tenessa, one of the conference organizers, greeted me at the reception with some sign language she knew. Those people may not be fluent in sign language, but it’s their effort that counts. Kristina, Tenessa, and others also communicated with me in typing on their mobile devices when interpreters were not around. Interpreters were provided throughout the conference as well as live captioning during a keynote and my presentation. I appreciate the organizers following my recommendations on good quality communication access providers.

Earlier this month I made a third trip to Philadelphia, to present at WordCamp US 2016 conference on a topic “Deaf-Friendly WordPress: Beyond Video Captioning and Sign Language”. I started using WordPress about a decade ago for CMS and my websites run on it. WordPress is user-friendly and easy to use, so it has been a CMS of my choice for many years. Even though I know how to code, WordPress allows me to update my websites, change themes, add and delete plugins without having to do much of coding.

Also, WordPress community is among a few mainstream ones that are deaf and disability friendly. When I first started attending their events in NYC a decade or so ago, they were not sure at first about providing communication access services due to the budget. If sponsors can cover food, space rental, lanyards, and so on, they can also cover accessibility expenses. WordPress organizers are among few organizers who are not only willing to make their events and products accessible, but also are serious about quality access. So I appreciate it when WordCamp NYC and WordCamp US organizers followed my recommendations for good quality communication access providers.

Tracy Levesque, one of the WordCamp US 2016 organizers, knows sign language and cares about deaf people and people with disabilities. She and I have known each other for several years after meeting at WordCamp in NYC. I appreciate Tracy’s efforts to make her event as friendly to people with disabilities as possible. I also had a pleasure meeting some people at a speaker reception who also happen to know some sign language – one from Denver, another from Australia, and yet another from Holland. And a few more throughout the conference. It was great to see some deaf people attending besides myself. One of them who came to see my talk didn’t even realize that I was deaf until he saw me signing. The more events are accessible via live captioning and sign language interpreters, the more deaf people would come.

The fun parts of the conference were a reception for speakers at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where you can also browse artwork and a party for WCUS attendees at The Academy of Natural Sciences where you can explore moving and roaring dinosaurs, visit a butterfly garden, see dioramas with animals. During my third visit to Philadelphia, I finally got to see a little more of the city – to walk around Christmas village and a skating rink in the City Hall area, to see the Liberty Bell, to visit Betsy Ross’s house. I also saw the famous LOVE sculpture as well as the AMOR sculpture on my way to the party at the museum and the new XOXO sculpture across the street from the Liberty Bell. I got to enjoy breakfast and lunch at the Reading Market – some of it made by the Amish.

If your organization is looking for a speaker to talk about accessibility who is also deaf, you can learn more about my public speaking experience. Accessibility topics are rarely covered at many events, many events are not accessible, and it’s even more rare to see deaf speakers from whom attendees can learn directly about what it’s like to be deaf and why it’s not deafness that is a barrier but the lack of accessibility.

In addition to speaking engagements, I also provide consulting services, training sessions, workshops to explain to organizations how to make their products, services, events accessible. For example, I taught an accessibility class at General Assembly.

Does your organization want to be on Santa’s Nice List in 2017? You will attract a wider audience if you make your products, services, events accessible. Accessibility is universal design that benefits everyone and not just those with disabilities. To learn more how to do that, contact me to hire me for a speaking engagement, a workshop, or a consulting session. Looking forward to working with you in 2017!

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