Last year I had the opportunity to attend my first General Assembly to speak at several sessions about my experience working as a science journalist and reporting in the field during an EGU Science Journalism Fellowship. With my tickets booked and accommodations reserved, I was ready to go — until I tore a ligament in my knee while skiing in my native state: Colorado in the U.S.
The timing of the surgery meant that I’d need to navigate the General Assembly on crutches, and as a first-time attendee, I had no idea if this was remotely possible. In the end, my excitement to meet other #scicomm professionals (and to get off my couch) finally swayed me to go for it. And much to my amazement, the experience was surprisingly easy.
The main reason is that the host venue, the Austria Center Vienna (ACV), is located on a compact island sandwiched between the Danube River and a canal. I was able to book a small apartment just a stone’s throw from the ACV, with a medium-sized grocery store and several restaurants, all of which were all within a few hundred metres of each other. The island, Donauinsel, is easily accessible via taxi from the airport, so once I arrived, everything I needed was within easy crutching distance.
Navigating the ACV was also very straightforward. The floor-plans*, which are published ahead of time, are color-coded and easy to read. The venue is triangular shaped, and the layout of each floor is relatively consistent, so I was quickly able to figure out the shortest distance to each room.
Every floor has four elevators, so I never had to crutch very far to change levels. And unlike most conference venues I’ve visited in the U.S., there are half a dozen options for buying food onsite — a huge help for my tired arms! The selection includes several cafes, a juice and smoothie bar, and a couple of restaurants, with enough variety for the entire week.
Another thing that helped make my experience so easy was the amazing community. Every time I entered a full lecture hall, several attendees would leap to their feet and offer their seats to me. People also routinely held the elevator doors open, helped me carry things, and genuinely made me feel welcome. I’m already looking forward to attending this year’s General Assembly — although, just to be sure, I have given up on skiing.
If you are thinking of attending this years General Assembly as you use a walking aid, I have three take-away tips:
- Download the ACV floor-plans ahead of time so you can hit the ground running — metaphorically speaking.
- Book your General Assembly accommodations early (as far in advance as you can), especially if you want to stay on Donauinsel.
- Please remember that not all handicaps are visible, so it’s important to avoid judging anyone wearing a ‘Please offer me a seat’ button. Even though I’ve ditched the crutches and no longer look physically impaired, I still can’t stand more than about ten minutes.
*These floor-plans are from 2019, but this link will be updated when the 2020 floor-plans are released.
This year EGU is taking additional steps to continue to improve the accessibility and inclusivity of its annual General Assembly. During the next few weeks we will be regularly posting information about the measures the Union is taking, tips and tricks for meeting attendees, and personal stories and advice from people with various experiences who have attended in previous years.
We are aware that this only represents the first step toward making our conference accessible to all, so if you have any ideas or advice for us on how to improve accessibility at the General Assembly, please tell us about them – we are willing to learn and keen to improve.