The response to our 2022 Annual Meeting theme, “Unsettling Landscapes,” has been tremendous and the many calls for papers demonstrate a profound commitment to deep conversations about our discipline, research, perspectives, and collaborations. In February, we held a town hall to introduce some changes in procedures for people stepping up to organize sessions, whether in virtual or face-to-face format. Our primary goal with these changes is simple—to recognize that among our many other points of reflection and change, accessibility demands our attention. Accessibility is a critical element in our quest for inclusion and equity that cannot be achieved until everyone interested in anthropology and our work can meaningfully engage with us.
Our commitment to addressing equitable access began in 2019 when AAA hired, as far as we are aware, the only full-time holistic accessibility expert on staff in any professional association outside of disability-related spaces. We are the first association outside of disability spaces to explicitly incorporate disability culture and its intentional inclusion within AAA as part of this role. As anthropologists, we should be proud of our community for advocating and supporting this intentional centering of disability and accessibility within our professional organization. In fact, as a field filled with experts on humankind, we owe it to this same community, disabled and nondisabled alike, to ensure accessible practices are embedded into our cultural fabric, so that as many people as possible who share our affinity for anthropology (and those yet to discover the discipline) can comfortably and confidently engage with our field and our association without hesitation. To do so, we need a holistic and collective approach. We need collective access, a term created to demonstrate an intentional and collective response to assuring that no body or mind is left behind (see the work of writer and educator Mia Mingus and disability justice performance project Sins Invalid for more).
We invite you as AAA members and as anthropologists to support an accessible and inclusive community by personally contributing to developing and ensuring our space and our materials are accessible. Over the years, we have seen the positive effects of more intentional accessibility at our Annual Meeting, whether in-person or virtual. Disabled colleagues and students have shared the positive impacts and their cautious optimism for what these initiatives mean for their ability to be active participants in a field that historically has not only excluded disabled people but treated disabled people as nothing more than objects of study.
Now we ask you as our peers to take personal responsibility in ensuring our spaces grow ever more accessible. We ask you to honor the 2021 AAA Annual Meeting theme of “Truth and Responsibility,” spearheaded by Bianca Williams, as we move into this year’s Annual Meeting theme of “Unsettling Landscapes,” led by Courtney Lewis, by disrupting the way we have traditionally presented our work and creating a new landscape that levels the field of access for our disabled colleagues, collaborators, and guests. Session organizers are now responsible for ongoing communication with and for all participants in their sessions, from the beginning of the submission process to the meeting itself. Part of this responsibility includes ensuring that we support our access team and disabled attendees by providing materials that make our work more available to a wider audience, outlined in multiple AAA accessibility guides.
To learn more about these requirements and recommendations, we invite you to view the webinar recording that I hosted, in which I provide additional explanation for why we are taking accessibility so seriously, in what ways it supports our access providers and attendees with access needs, and how I will be contributing to this process that is unsettling our Annual Meeting cycle. Nell and I thank you for partnering with us in this new journey.