A Proactive Approach to Disability Access

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As an NLP community, we have generally been a welcoming bunch with good intentions. This year the ACL Office and NAACL 2019’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Committee will back up their good intentions with a new approach to disability accommodations. As Rachel Dawes said in Batman Begins, “It’s not who we are, but what we do, that defines us.”

Our mission is to to make sure that anyone even considering attending the conference knows that they can request accommodations (via this form).

First, we all know researchers who attend without requesting the accommodations they need, and so do not receive the full benefit of the conference. For example, a few years ago, one attendee could not fully hear the talks and questions. Instead, they relied on the presentation slides and PDF proceedings.

Second, some researchers decide not to attend at all because of accessibility woes at past conferences. As they also do not request accommodations, they do not appear on NAACL’s radar screen. They miss out on the opportunities afforded by attending the conference, and the field suffers from losing out on their diverse perspectives.

This year, we’re hoping to offer the following accommodations, among any others that are requested:

  • Dedicated seating for the vision-impaired or to improve physical access
  • Captioning of talks for the hearing-impaired
  • Aides to assist attendees with mobility or other issues in navigating the conference venue
  • Quiet areas to escape the noise and intensity of the conference

A significant benefit of language technology is that it can make the world of language available to those who have not had full access in the past, for example due to impaired hearing or vision. It is important that potential users of these technologies can participate fully in our conferences and contribute to language technology research. No one should be left out in the cold, unable to participate despite their passion for computational linguistics.

We invite everyone to join us in Minneapolis at NAACL 2019, and hope to see you there! Again, the special requests form is here. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out via naacl2019-diversity-inclusion-chairs@googlegroups.com.

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