AlterConf: A Conference to Emulate

October 05 2014

Yesterday I attended AlterConf, a conference about diversity in the tech and gaming industries, hosted by Ashe Dryden.

The talks were enlightening, personal, and hopeful:

  • Stacey Mulcahy and Catt Small on lessons they've learned running the Code Liberation Foundation, an organization that offers free game development workshops for women
  • Manuel Marcano on avoiding Native American stereotypes in games
  • David Peter on what deafness is, his experiences being deaf, and what we can do to be more inclusive
  • Shawn Alexander Allen on how underrepresented game designers have used Kickstarter to crowdfund their games
  • Stephanie Morillo on her experiences learning to code while growing up in the Bronx and how lack of exposure is blocking entire communities from startups and the tech industry
  • Senongo Akpem on the booming tech scene in Nigeria
  • Chris Algoo on lessons learned organizing diversity-focused game jams through Brooklyn Gamery
  • Aly Ferguson on how gaming has a tremendous impact in mental, physical, and social rehabilitation
  • Arlene Ducao on her experiences with micro-discrimination at MIT Media Lab and the relationship between US startup culture and imperialism

AlterConf has the most diverse set of speakers I've ever seen at a conference. This is not a coincidence. I'd like to emphasize a few details of AlterConf that made the environment particularly safe and welcoming, in no particular order:

  • explicit focus on all aspects of diversity
  • all gender restrooms
  • preferred pronouns on nametags
  • taped-off mobility zones
  • ADA accessible, and near ADA accessible public transportation
  • real-time captioning (Lindsey Kuper wrote a great post about why !!Con provided this)
  • sign language interpreters
  • hyper-local (reduced travel costs for attendees and speakers)
  • sliding-scale tickets
  • speaker compensation
  • first-time speakers
  • Code of Conduct
  • food and non-alchoholic drinks
  • content/trigger warnings when appropriate
  • no forced networking
  • side rooms available to take breaks from being social
  • plenty of breaks between talks
  • optional partners to walk with you to your subway station, etc

It's clear that the organizers put a ton of work into making the conference safe and accessible for everyone, and their work paid off in an exceptionally diverse set of speakers and attendees. This is what can happen when organizers shift their focus from providing social events and happy hours to making their conference safe and accessible.

tags: alterconf diversity conferences