Regular readers of this blog (both of you) would already know that I’m a vocal skeptic, humanist, atheist and science enthusiast. When I have the opportunity, I enjoy meeting up with other like minded people at conferences, “pub” events, local dinners and other similar gatherings. In our winter residence in Florida, I enjoy the South Pinellas Skeptics meet-ups and, in our Cambridge, Massachusetts home during the summer, I try to attend Mary Brock’s Boston Skeptics Book Club meetings in Harvard Square.
Conferences, however, require planning, travel and a reasonably large expense. I’d love to attend a bunch of conferences around the world, alas, I need to be picky as I can only afford to attend a few events per year and these include technology events unrelated to skepticism in any way.
Last year, I attended two skeptical/humanist/science sorts of events, QED in Manchester, England and Women in Secularism (WiS) in Washington, DC. So far this year, I’ve only attended the One Web For All hackathon in San Francisco but, next month, I’ll be flying back to the UK to attend QED for the second year in a row.
What Makes QED So Special?
Before attending QED 2013, I wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek blog post called “Gonz and the X-Dog at QED” which provided a remedial tutorial in how people can and should engage with a blind person and his dog while at a conference. When I wrote that piece, almost exactly one year ago, I thought it would provide an amusing look at social relationships and a person with vision impairment. What would happen to my blind friend and I at WiS would, however, teach me that the wonderful time I had at QED 2013 may not have been a reality I could expect elsewhere.
QED and Accessibility
When, in autumn 2012, I purchased my tickets for QED, I followed up with an email to the Merseyside Skeptics Society (MSS) telling them of potential accessibility problems at a conference and received a very friendly email from Mike Hall, one of the guys on the terrific “Skeptics With A K” podcast and the guy responsible for the technological portions of the conference (web site, hand outs, etc.). In his note, Mike said that, closer to the conference date, he’d send me the files and, if there were any problems, that he would remediate them before the actual event date. About eight weeks before QED 2013, I got a nice email from Mike congaing the PDF files containing the conference handouts and, as in advance, he had already looked up how to properly tag a PDF for accessibility, they were all fully accessible before I even saw them. This is exactly how accessibility should be handled, if there’s a standard to follow it just do as Mike did and follow the guidelines and you won’t need anyone to help with remediation as there won’t be anything to remedy.
Social Models at QED
Most people who attended QED 2013 had not read my blog article describing how to act around a blind person and his dog. Nonetheless, while in Manchester last year, not a single QED conference attendee touched either me or my dog without first announcing their presence. Perhaps, the public school systems in UK do a better job of educating their society about human relationships with people with disabilities or, perhaps, the QED attending population is far more “with it” than those who might attend a CFI event in DC. I honestly don’t know why QED attendees are so nice to be around but, all I can say, is that I deeply appreciate the culture of the event.
Other Blind People at QED?
Last year, as QED wound down, I promised that I’d do whatever I could to at least double the number of blind people in attendance. Mike Hall and the MSS gang did such a gray job with accessibility in 2013 and, this year, did an even better job with the QED web site than before. When I bought my QED tickets this year, I found a single and very minor accessibility bug on the site, I reported it to Mike and it was fixed less than a half hour later. Mike’s commitment to accessibility is stronger than some people who work on the technical side of some accessibility/disability oriented conferences and is, by far, the most accessible mainstream conference I’ve ever been around.
Unfortunately, although nearly a year ago, I promised to pay for a QED ticket for any other blind person who cared to attend, I’ve received zero requests for such. A few friends toyed with the idea but, for a variety of pretty good reasons, they couldn’t attend this year. This makes me sad as Mr. Hall has done a lot of excellent work to make the conference accessible to our population but I’m the only one who seems capable of enjoying his work. If you’re blind and enjoy science, humanism, atheism, skepticism and related topics, please do consider attending QED. I’m told there are very few tickets left but, if you’re blind and want to attend, write to me through the contact form and, if you’re serious, I’ll get you a ticket if any remain. I’d just love to be able to thank Mike for his terrific efforts by showing that more blind people than just me will attend.
How Is QED Special Otherwise?
Unlike some skeptical events, TAM for instance, QED has no green room for the speakers and other celebrities to hide. In 2013, I enjoyed chatting with Lawrence Krauss as if he was just another attendee. During an overflow panel a lot of people had to sit on the floor. Richard Dawkins himself was on the floor beside the X-Dog, showing a side of the controversial and often difficult man that one would rarely otherwise have the opportunity to witness. I was able to meet and hang out with as many of the speakers I had hoped to and enjoyed establishing a friendship with people like Carrie Poppy, Michael Marshal and the Pod Delusion people.
The QED 2014 speaker list contains a broad section of different sub-topics from the entire spectrum of scientific skepticism. I’m really looking forward to hearing a lot of the talks and panels announced so far.
More than the presentations, though, I look forward to hanging out with friends I had made at QED last year and before then as well. I can’t wait to see skeptical notables like Hayley Stevens and Rhys Morgan but also all of the nice people whose names few of you would recognize. At QED 2013, I felt that I had “found my tribe” and I look forward to meeting more friends whom I haven’t met yet.
Getting Involved In Skepticism
Since attending QED 2013, I’ve continued making the occasional contribution to Pod Delusion and have done a handful of guest posts for Skepchick as well. Most interestingly, though, I’m a founding contributor to a new site called Skeptability, a Skepchick sister site about disability. Skeptability isn’t online yet so please follow this blog to learn when we’ve launched.
Whether you are blind or have another disability or not, I recommend you attend QED next month. Check out the QED site and you’ll undoubtedly find aspects of it you would like to hear. Come to reward MSS for doing a terrific job of accessibility for their event but, mostly, attend this event to meet amazing people with interests similar to mine. If you like this blog, you’ll love QED.