Being right near Washington DC, I have been able to attend several conferences and events related to assistive technology and disability. I always learn something from these events, and attending them as not only benefitted me as a blogger, but as a student and someone with low vision. Here are my tips for attending conferences at venues of various sizes.
Finding out about events
I learn about upcoming conferences and events through a local listserv connected with the DC Public Library. I also follow local assistive technology and low vision groups on Twitter. Occasionally, one of my mentors or friends will tell me about a conference as well.
When requesting accommodations, I ask for digital copies of materials or presentations to be made available, and access them using my iPad. If I can't get materials digitally, I request large print in size 24 point font, and pick up the accessible materials at the conference check-in. It is illegal to be charged extra for requesting disability accommodations.
What to wear
I make sure that whatever I'm wearing does not restrict my movement or feel uncomfortable in any way. I usually wear a dress with compression leg braces layered underneath, and comfortable ballet flats. I've seen attendees dress anywhere from very casually to business formal, so I try to shoot for an inbetween. Business casual is usually a smart choice.
What I bring with me
When traveling to conferences, I bring a crossbody bag with me so I don't have to worry about balancing a purse. My bag is large enough to fit my iPad and small conference materials I might receive, plus it can hold business cards. I also bring my collapsible blindness cane, which I keep unfolded for the most part.
Almost every conference I have attended has been accessible by public transportation- specifically, the Metrorail system. For the other events, I use Uber to get back and forth and have had great results from it, especially when traveling locally or outside of the state.
Learn the layout
At every conference I have attended, a security staff member or designated human guide has been available to describe the layout of the conference area and note any obstacles. Having a digital map is also a great resource.
Who to visit?
I make a note of which booths/vendors I really want to talk to before heading into the conference. I try to go to the high-tech vendors first, since one of my major interests is high-tech assistive technology. After that, I look around at local, unfamiliar groups or anyone demonstrating assistive technology devices. Lastly, I go say hello to familiar organizations or visit people I know.
Follow people on social media
Whenever I visit a vendor or booth I really like, I make a note about my visit with them and immediately follow them on Twitter. This has helped me many times when I am trying to remember an organization name or someone I talked to.
Take notes after the conference
While I'm on my way back from conferences, I write down everything I can remember on my iPad and take notes of any people or organizations that I want to contact. I also scan in business cards that I received.
I first became interested in assistive technology after attending a conference at my future university, and have found that I always learn something new at each event that I attend. I highly recommend attending at least one conference or event if you have any interest in assistive technology or have a disability.