I've been organizing and speaking at conferences for years. I always mainstreamed myself because I didn't know what conferences would look like if I let myself be deaf. I was afraid they wouldn't look like anything -- that my choices were either to mainstream myself... or not go to conferences at all.
Now that I've tried having ASL interpreters and CART at 3 academic conferences, I can confidently say:
- Accessibility is a stressful, multi-week/multi-month pain in the butt to set up.
- It is so much better than mainstreaming myself that I don't ever want to go to a conference without accessibility again.
Because you know what people do at conferences? They talk. They meet each other, share ideas, network, eat together, congregate in hallways and exhibit halls and chat. This blew my mind. I used to go to conferences, talk with a few people I already knew in 1:1 situations, deliver my talks, maybe go to a friend's talk for support, and then collapse in my hotel room and stare at the ceiling.
Dear World: If I spend the next 5 years of my life working on accessibility -- helping my colleagues and conferences and institutions and so forth set up things like captioning and interpreters, learning Yet Another Foreign Language (ASL) and getting electronics drilled into my skull (hybrid cochlear implant) and re-learning how to process sound like a baby, tinker with flashing doorbells and reading up on disability theory and making peace with my relationship(s) with d/Deaf culture(s) and coaching friends and family through How To Please Communicate With Mel, and... all these things --
...will you pick up at least some of the burden for the 50+ years of my career (and more importantly, life) after that, so I can rest, and breathe, and be with friends, and maybe -- I dunno, raise a family? And write books? And teach, and do the narrative research that I love to do, and play the piano, and have friends (and students!) over for tea and dinner, and see the world, and draw, and... basically do things without having to set up communication logistics for everything in advance, and without being very, very tired from lipreading all the time?
This sounds like such a plaintive, childish thing to ask. But that's all I've got and that's how I feel -- like I want to move within the world, connect with it -- and unlike my usual, highly-competent, highly-independent adult self, this is something I can't do on my own. I rely on other people for accessibility; I rely on hearing colleagues making their dialogues accessible to me, on interpreters translating what they say, on conferences to bring in the services I need to be there and not be exhausted. My own earnestness will not be enough. I need to actually ask the rest of the world for something I cannot pay back.
I don't think these thoughts are yet entirely formed, and they don't make sense to me yet, and that's okay. I've mulled around this long enough to put this work-in-progress out there.