“Break the invisible wall” – upcoming talk about challenges and opportunities for people who stutter to participate in academic conferences

Post-OSS updates and reflections (1/24/2023)

I tried out the format of doing the “live” presentation with a recorded talk (slides) today, and it worked surprisingly well, especially for virtual meetings!

How it works:
  1. I recorded myself giving the presentation the day before (in one-shot, without any video editing), and shared the recorded video with the seminar host, Rhonda.
  2. At the time of my presentation, I showed up at the meeting but had Rhonda played the recorded presentation, while I monitoring the chat and the reaction of the audience.
  3. After we viewed the recorded presentation, I addressed the questions posed in the chat, and invited people for more questions and discussions. People can choose to join the discussion over the chat or using their voice (unmute). And I answered all questions through speech, while sending some supplemental information over the chat (e.g. referenced papers, news articles).
What I like about this format:
  1. I have more control on the timing. Stuttering is unpredictable. I know the general categories of words that I have more trouble with, but that changes over time, and depending on the situations. I often can’t predict how often, or how long I will be struggling with a word before I open my mouth, which makes strictly-timed speech difficult. By recording the presentation ahead of time at a low-stress setting (by myself or with a supportive friend), I have more mental energy to focus on the content and less struggle when I talk. As a result, although I still stutter from time to time in the recorded, my ideas flow better (and often shorter) and it takes less physical/mental efforts for me to speak.
  2. I have more energy and mental bandwidth to connect with my audience during the presentation. While the recorded talk is being played, I can monitor the chat and looked at the faces of the audience (something I can’t do when I am in the presenter mode over Zoom). The questions in chat and the micro-expressions I saw in the audience really made me to feel connected and validated by the audience, something I almost never felt during a live presentation when almost all my mental energy were spent at annunciating the next word.
  3. The recorded talk can reach beyond the live audience and become more accessible than me talking live! In the age of remote work, we are all collaborating and working with people across different timezones, and it is harder to get everyone at the same place at the same time. Some people are also not aware of the event until it happened. Having the recorded talk, together with the slides, is the best way I can think of to share the experience and the ideas with people who can not attend the event. I asked Rhonda to forward the video and the slides with anyone who is interested at this topic, and I am gonna do the same here. I can also add captions to the video so it is accessible to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, or anyone without audio channels on their devices.
  4. I still got the interact with the audience directly afterward the video. I have already enjoyed hearing people’s questions and reactions about my presentation, and I was glad that I still got to do that right afterwards. I used to be very conscious about how fast I talked during the Q&A time, and worried that if I answer one question for too long, I wouldn’t be able to get to all the questions. But with the virtual environment + recorded talk, I could 1) address some questions during the presentation, or at least mentally prepare for them before the Q&A time; 2) share more details related to my answer through chat if I encounter a questions that is a bit complex and takes longer to address. Either way, I felt less time-pressured to speak quickly and fluently during Q&A, and made the experience even more enjoyable to me.

I am so glad that we tried out this format – first time for me, and find it quite promising in improving conference/presentation accessibility for both the presenter and the audience. I hope more and more academia conferences/seminar adapt and normalize this format, and the next time when I do a “recorded live” presentation, it is something so common that it does not require extra explanations on why I choose to present this way.

Please join us in our presentation and follow-up discussion with fellow academia and conference organizers at Virtual Chair’s Organizer Seminar Series next Tuesday, Jan 24, 2023.

Shaomei will share AImpower’s current research, as well as her own experiences, on videoconferencing challenges and benefits for people who stutter, and lead a discussion on strategies to accommodate and empower people with speech diversity in on-site and virtual academic conferences. The title and abstract of the presentation is below:

Break the Invisible Wall: Challenges and Opportunities for People Who Stutter to Participate in In-person and Virtual Conferences

Abstract. As common accessibility accommodations such an accessible transportation services and sign language interpreters become increasingly available and expected in academic conferences, the experiences and needs for conference attendants with invisible disabilities remain less understood and under supported. In this talk, I will share current research as well as my own experiences on the challenges faced by researchers who stutter – estimated 1-3% of the world population – at in-person or virtual conferences. As a neurodevelopmental condition, stuttering in adulthood is incurable and often generates significant social penalties besides speech disfluencies. For researchers who stutter, presenting and networking at in-person events with strict time limits and noisy surroundings can cause great stress that undermines their ability to communicate clearly and confidently. Virtual conferences bring both opportunities and new challenges for people who stutter. My recent interview study with 13 adults who stutter highlights a few structural issues with contemporary video conferencing tools that makes them NOT stutter friendly, such as the design of preset/sticky “self-view” and the limited support for non-verbal channels. I will conclude my talk with a few suggestions to better accommodate the needs of people with speech diversity, but leave ambient time for an open discussion on personal reflections and other accommodation strategies.  

You can register for the event here. We will also update this post with a summary of the talk and the key insights from the discussion afterwards!

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