Your Rights. Your Privacy. Your Freedom.
 

Virtual Events are More Accessible

three smiling people looking at a laptop together
By Seq, NCSF Board Member

As a person who was born with anatomical differences, diagnosed as a child and adult with a neurodevelopmental disorder, and then six years ago developed chronic illness, I often struggle to find my place and identity as a person living with disabilities.

To attend an in-person multiple day event, I most often need to take a round of corticosteroids in order to stand and walk. Corticosteroids are difficult for me to take, but I have a desire to stay socially involved. Taking steroids also affects my immune system, so I cannot go to many conferences per year. For me, it is still possible to attend in-person events, they just take much more of a toll. Although I lost people I cared about to Covid-19, and struggled like most people with the various changes in day-to-day life, there were also positives that occurred during the first few years of the pandemic.

One particularly noteworthy positive was the availability of virtual events.

At the beginning of the pandemic, most of us were unable to attend in-person events and our communities scrambled to move offerings online. Everything from conferences to support groups moved to online formats for a time. For me personally, this meant I could attend events almost every evening if I had the desire to do so. I saw people I had not seen in years. I met people that normally could not attend in-person events due to the lack of accessibility. Attending virtually also meant that I could afford to attend many more events overall! 

For many years before I developed chronic illness, I actively made an effort to support (to the best of my ability) people with less privilege and opportunities than I found myself presented with. From people experiencing homelessness, to women returning from incarceration, to forensic psychiatric patients in need of advocacy and support, to survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault, I felt drawn to assist, support, and serve. Turning a dangerous vacant lot into a community garden and teaching kids and teachers STEM, brought me joy in those times when I was still so physically active. It was my honor at my event space to feature artists and performers that normally were not given opportunities. Capping the cover charge to my weekend events at $10, while also openly offering volunteer shifts and scholarships, allowed more people to enjoy the events without enduring additional financial hardship.

These days I still serve communities with whatever energy I can muster, but also find that I am less and less able to participate than I was before my health status changed. Naturally, this makes me even more aware of the ways our communities may not be as accessible as we would like to believe.

Virtual and hybrid events create opportunities. When there are less virtual events being offered, valuable members of the community lose those opportunities. 

During the times we had such a nice variety of virtual events to choose from, I experienced a new sense of community. People were connected from all over the world. For some of my neurodiverse friends, the online format was much more emotionally (and sensorially) tolerable. Many felt they did not have as much pressure to force themselves to do eye contact, for example. Attendees could type in the chat if turning on the mic to speak did not work for them for any reason. Friends from the blind community joined more events, much to my delight. Some events hired ASL interpreters, so I got to meet even more amazing people. Many events enabled transcription features which made it easier for me to follow along when especially tired. Attendees could pop into a meeting a bit late, if that was OK with the host and other attendees. If I was not feeling well or felt my energy rapidly draining, I could politely leave an event early, if needed. Finding and accessing a safe bathroom was never a concern since I was joining from home, and navigating up and down stairs was less of an issue. Outside of our sex positive/alt-sex communities, I could attend even more social justice, peer support, and training events online too!

Now that it is safer for some people to attend events in-person again, more events are occurring on location, and less events are being offered virtually. To those event hosts continuing to offer events online, to those currently offering or working toward offering hybrid versions, and to those currently trying to fill in the gaps by offering brand new virtual events, I want to thank you. Thank you for offering me ways to stay connected. Thank you for creating space.