Accessibility and Equity at CHI 2021

  • March 18, 2021

tl;dr please tell us about accessibility needs during registration or contact the accessibility chairs at however if you find something inequitable at CHI 2021 please email the general chairs at (we revised this post a little to add more examples and context on March 20th)



As we release blog posts here and have email updates for our 3000+ registered delegates, the CHI 2021 community is coming together to help us iron out the program for CHI 2021. This might be simple things like the use of a calendar tool which isn’t showing the correct time today as some time zone will change between now and the conference or course times which seem off to people and then need to be fixed. Having many people in our community who care deeply about the CHI 2021 experience and volunteer to help others is what makes CHI 2021 work as a conference and community. If you see a problem, please send us an email. We cannot monitor all the social media channels, both local and global, which people use to discuss their CHI experience.


Firstly, the SIGCHI leadership have previously acknowledged that neglecting to consider major religious holidays in the planning was a mistake and that this is now part of the consideration of future CHI site selections (from 2024 onwards) and the involvement of vendors. However, this post is about equity at CHI 2021 which is by no means perfect to start with we would first like to acknowledge. Equity at CHI 2021 is the responsibility of the CHI 2021 organisers and presenters and indeed delegates. It runs deeper than just selecting an accessible venue (or conference virtual platform) at an inclusive time. It’s more than just engaging a diverse and globally distributed group of volunteers to organize the conference. It’s more than encouraging the global HCI community to attend with reduced rates for those from economically developing countries. Indeed, it’s more than soliciting the very best HCI research through peer review, jury selection or curation to share the excellent work in HCI from around the world. It’s about the conference leadership reflecting on our own challenges, then taking actions and the community responding.


Physical spaces vs virtual spaces (updated March 20th)

Workshops are typically held the weekend before CHI (this decision from many years ago has equity issues in itself as this often impacts those with caring and other religious observances). The decision on the use of weekends then flows into booking space at the venue. For 2021 you might ask, why not book the venue after the conference for more workshop days? Well, in fact in Yokohama there was another event rolling in the door after CHI so we had been there we would have needed to be physically out the door in about 3hrs after the end of the closing session. If you get to see a physical CHI again pay attention to when the “exhibit floor” officially closes and what starts to happen about 5 minutes after the music ends at the closing ceremony. Most conference delegates are gone but a few will start to see a flurry of people come in to reset the space for another event (e.g. after CHI 2018 we believe it was a car show coming in). As a result, booking spaces has hard constraints and significant budget impact.


Virtual workshops and symposia

Workshops and symposia in 2021 are a good example of how the CHI community can respond and did respond in 2021 in a more equitable manner. The call for workshops was published before the decision to go fully virtual was made. As a result, those proposing workshops started to ask “can we hold our workshop after CHI”. Now, that decision is not as simple as a “yes” or “no”. We had to check if the platform could support us (or we would do something else), would sign language interpreters be available and would other support be available (inc volunteers). Quite quickly the workshop chairs were able to secure the general chairs support and proposals for workshops after CHI started to come in. As a result, 11 workshops are now planned for after CHI which allows some delegates who cannot attend on the weekend before due to family, religious or other commitments to attend. Of course, there are 39 other workshops which are in time zones which won’t always suit everyone, or on days which won’t suit everyone or will be overlapping to religious events which won’t suit everyone. However, we think the CHI workshops chairs and more importantly the workshop organisers responded in a very positive way to try and make CHI more equitable for all.


Workshops and other efforts from organisers across CHI continue to inspire and motivate the general chairs to reflect and try to make CHI more equitable for all. It also helps inform what we will report one day to the CHI steering committee for the future of CHI. For example, the timing on the BLinners should be as equitable as possible and we have spent a lot of time planning and deciding how the keynote speakers presentations and Q&A should be delivered to improve the experience for the entire global HCI community.



Beyond the CHI 2021 organisers, equity at CHI also lives in each member of the CHI community. It’s a shared view of making all of these things listed above matter as we advance the field of HCI and the impact it has on the world. Acting in a equitable way is not the responsibility of some unnamed “them”, it’s the responsibility of us, each one of us. This means, many things for you potentially as we all prepare for CHI 2021.


For example, if you are preparing a video and other materials are you thinking in an equitable manner? Are you following along the guidance the organizers (with help from the SIGCHI video team in operations) produced. At a deeper level, are you adding the captions to your video because you “have to” or because you “want to”. When we think an equitable manner we are glad our content can now be experienced in better ways by others. If you see being asked to make your work more accessible as an imposition on your time, then stop and reflect?


Who better than you and your co-authors to caption what can often be technically challenging content which even the most professional, competent and experienced captioners cannot succeed at. Take time to consider all the new terminology and acronyms we invent each year and ask yourself “would a captioner know what this was” and as you do that ask yourself “would someone who has low or no vision or limited hearing be able to experience what I’m presenting”. Empathy in HCI isn’t just something nice to have, it’s what makes HCI researchers understand the power they have to change the world by stepping into the myriad shoes of those, whom they will never meet, to picture how they will experience what we create, from a new interface to a research paper.


There are many other aspects of this. It will include following the guidance of a session chair, following what a student volunteer might ask you to do, following what a vendor we work with asks you to do to ensure your paper or workshop is accessible, or simply responding in a constructive way when asked to work in an equitable manner, even if it involves some more effort on your part.


To date, the largest CHI ever held has been in Glasgow in 2019. We sadly missed coming together as a community in 2020. The CHI 2020 did a remarkable amount of work to prepare us to come together in Hawaii but when the pandemic broke out, they didn’t have sufficient time to pivot the conference to an online experience. As the organizers of CHI 2021 we can attest to the challenges we faced and still face in moving what was planned for years as a physical event into an online experience to bring the community together. You might be starting to imagine attending CHI as just another video conference. However that is the wrong way to think about coming together at CHI 2021 on our virtual conference platform.


At this very moment the draft conference program has been built. However this is only the first of many steps we need to take. During this process if you see something you see as inequitable for you or others, please do let us know.. Please be aware that some requests may be difficult to address at short notice, and we may not be able to accommodate every request.


As we said earlier, this year CHI 2021 has already made changes for workshops with delegates who are celebrating Eid-al-fitr, for the first time ever we have workshops before and after CHI. However, it may be the case that a presenter will have a commitment which clashes with their scheduled presentation. First, we ask you to consider is your personal commitment something that you can ask those who know you to help you accommodate, have you asked you co-authors (if you have them). Each change we try to make in the CHI plan impacts many others. However, after you have tried your best please contact us and we will try our best. Again, please keep in mind we are volunteers and the later a change is requested the bigger the impact it has and in the end we may not be able to accommodate every request. If we try our best together then we can make CHI 2021 an experience to remember.


As we move the draft program from the SIGCHI QOALA to data outputs into delegate connect this will build the shell of CHI 2021. Then the volunteers get to work testing the layout and setup and authors may be asked to help check aspects of it also. As the system is built, student volunteers and chairs will be taking tours and testing the setup to ensure it’s all ready for opening day in May. By the time the platform opens we want everything ready for our delegates to be able to make waves and combine strengths together.


However, our final request to everyone to act and think in an equitable manner extends to the event itself. By spreading the content around a 24hr clock we will have busier and more quiet times. We need to CHI community to be present, to engage as fully and in such a dedicated manner as they would in the physical world. The shell that is CHI 2021 is like an empty building. Without you, our delegates it’s nothing. You, your research, your latest case studies, your courses, your late breaking work, your demos, your ideas, energy and questions are what will make CHI 2021 an experience to remember.


We acknowledge again that CHI 2021 has issues of equity already baked into it due to dates themselves, the weekend dates, the time zones, the need to rely on a virtual conference platform with bandwidth requirements. However, where we can we are trying to act in an equitable manner as the CHI 2021 leadership and we ask that when you bring your work, your desire to learn and your ideas, please bring them in an equitable manner and think of the other people who you want to make waves with, who you want to combine strengths with and who you want to help make the world a better place with for all.


Together, you, and I and we are CHI.   


Yoshifumi Kitamura and Aaron Quigley,
CHI 2021 General Chairs



HOME >  Blog >  Accessibility and Equity at CHI 2021