Last week, I posted an article here describing the poor accessibility my blind friend and I experienced at Women in Secularism 2. On Thursday, I received a formal, written apology (pasted at the end of this piece) from Dr. Ronald Lindsay, president of Center for Inquiry (CFI), for the accessibility problems. I accept his apology and expect that CFI, on an organizational level, will become more accessible soon. I also wish he had also apologized to my friends Rebecca Watson and Amy Davis Roth for a variety of things he’s said to offend them but, alas, he seems unlikely to offer such to them.
On Friday, I had a lovely, hour long talk with Melody Hensley on the phone. We worked out the issues and I’m confident that Melody will make certain that future events on which she works will be accessible. I also listened to Melody and agreed that I had somewhat mischaracterized her in my “Invisible Blind Man” blog post and went back in and edited it to better represent Melody’s role in these events.
I told Melody that, on Sunday afternoon when we got angry with her over accessibility, we hadn’t yet heard about Ron’s highly offensive blog post attacking my friend Rebecca or of the huge shit storm that Ron’s speech caused at her conference. In brief, I told Melody that, very unfortunately, Ron Lindsay hijacked her conference and, very sadly, she had to deal with the very legitimate complaints from other women who felt badly at a feminist conference. None of this was Melody’s fault.
Melody Hensley should be congratulated for putting on a terrific conference at which some things went badly. Here are the things I enjoyed best bout the conference:
Rebecca Goldstein’s presentation on Friday afternoon helped me understand the concept of “micro-aggression” . This is an issue I hear a lot about in and around hacker events and spaces with which I am involved. Until I learned about “mattering maps” I was an apologist for this sort of behavior; now, I think I can be far more effective in helping bring greater diversity to a community I enjoy a lot. Goldstein’s amazing language was stunning and, in addition to being informative, her speech was breathtaking in its linguistic beauty.
Susan Jacoby, an author whose work I’ve enjoyed a lot, brought history to life for me in her talk. I learn something interesting every time I read Susan’s work and her appearance at WiS filled me with loads of other interesting things to follow up on in the future. Thanks Ms Jacoby for inspiring me to learn more.
I have long been a supporter of reproductive rights but Amanda Marcott gave me a profoundly stronger understanding of these issues. Her discussion on Plan B, an issue I hadn’t thought much about, hammered home the issues that exist even in the so-called liberal Obama administration.
The panel with my friends Carry Poppy, Amy Davis Roth and Rebecca Watson along with Sarah Moglia,, a woman whose writing I’ve enjoyed before, was tremendously interesting and the only one, until Maryam Namazie spoke on Saturday evening, that mentioned people with disabilities as a disenfranchised population. I’m honored that Skepchick publishes my occasional guest post and getting to hear Rebecca and Amy live and meet them in person made me really happy.
On far more than disability issues, I found virtually everything that Maryam Namazie said completely compelling. No matter how strongly I word a statement regarding disability rights, no matter how emphatically I call a person a “raging segregationist,” “an ablist” or anything else I do fighting for the rights of my population, I have never received a death threat from some outraged reader or listener. Meanwhile, here in the US, my friends Rebecca and her fellow Skepchicks are threatened with rape and murder with reasonable frequency. The women Maryam describes, feminists under fatwa in Iran and around the Middle East, under threat of death from governments, Islamists and even their own families but choose to continue to speak out are simply incredible. These courageous women, in the “liberal” west or under Islamic theocracies, are my real heroes as I don’t think I would have the courage to continue my advocacy if I received threats of rape or murder.
Jennifer Michael Hecht gave a terrific presentation. I think, among other insightful things she discussed, also said, “We need to do more than come out of the closet, we need to leave the house.” This led me to think about the weird “social segregation” we experienced when encountering most of the other conference attendees with whom we chatted around the conference. As people with disabilities, we need to go out into the world, as our gay friends who have come out have done in recent decades, so others can grow more familiar and comfortable with our population.
Obviously, there is a bit of a chicken and egg problem regarding accessibility and engagement by our community. If an event is inaccessible, people won’t want to go; an event may not become accessible if no people with disabilities ever show up. We need to tear down the technological and social “whites only” signs regarding our population but our population needs to engage potential allies to make them aware of accessibility. It’s easier for someone like me than most people with disabilities, I’ve attended conferences and have traveled alone or with my dog to virtually every continent on Earth. While WiS was hard for me, it would have been impossible for one less skilled and experienced in attending such events.
Debbie Goddard was on a few panels and, as she has in a few interviews I’ve heard her do on podcasts, she was both informative and entertaining. I always enjoy hearing Debbie and, when she talked about being “invisible” to the sorts of men who make cat calls, we invisible blind people in the front row applauded.
I must say, that, with the exception of Dr. Lindsay’s talk, I enjoyed everything I heard from the stage. If I didn’t mention you or your talk or panel, I really did like it, I just want to wind down this post.
I did get to get away with one thing that no other man at the event could have. While buying a couple of t-shirts from Rebecca at her Skepchick table, I reached into my wallet and handed her my room key instead of my credit card. The humor of the action was recognized immediately and all nearby had a good laugh. That laugh, along with a hug from Rebecca when I first saw her were the warmest moments of the conference for me.
The other truly awesome thing I got out of the conference was getting to interview Shelley Segal for Pod Delusion. Meeting Shelley and her road manager, Natalie, was a real joy. I’ll be writing all about her after the podcast segment drops.
Ronald Lindsay’s Letter of Apology:
Dear Mr. Hofstader:
I read your blog posts on your experience at the Women in Secularism
conference, and I want you to know we take your criticisms very seriously.
Thank you for pointing our where we have fallen short in organization, and
where we as individuals could have better served your needs and the needs of
others with disabilities.
We are going to take your thoughts into account as we discuss how we might
improve things at future events and conferences. All of us at CFI care deeply
about making our work and events accessible to everyone, and we are always
learning. And of course, we will make mistakes.
Please accept our sincere apologies for any discomfort or feeling of
unwelcome you experienced as a result of our actions or lack thereof. And
please feel free to contact me directly with any additional ideas or advice
you have to offer as we work to do better.
All the best,
Ronald A. Lindsay