A number of suggestions grew out of a Diversity Townhall held at SPSP this year that were shared by an attendee with the SPSP leadership and central office. What follows is some information that may provide greater context for some of the society’s decisions and actions around these areas of concern.
Stages for ADA – Every registered attendee indicates if ADA accommodations are needed, and the central office follows up one on one to determine their needs. This year, for example, we rented equipment for a hearing-impaired attendee. In the past, we’ve paid for onsite assistance for vision-impaired attendees and have installed ramps for individuals in wheelchairs presenting on stages. One issue raised at the Town Hall was that a ramp was not available at a pre-conference where it was needed this year. Unfortunately, fixing the problem once it came to our attention proved logistically impossible because there were already too many people in the room to allow for installing a ramp. Despite this unfortunate event, we want to assure members that SPSP is committed to making accommodations to make our conference welcoming for all members and we have learned from this experience to make greater efforts to reach out to members to make sure they are aware of room set-ups in advance to hopefully avoid these kinds of problems in the future.
Non-conference hotel fees – The SPSP board is painfully aware of how unpopular these fees are and have debated their merits several times. The central office is firm, however, on the need for them and has persuaded the board of this need, as well. The short answer about non-conference hotel fees is that our conference is a bit unique because of the sheer number of student attendees, which makes conference planning especially difficult and potentially expensive.
One of those difficulties is that the number and kind of conference rooms and other amenities and services (such as seating within meeting rooms, AV and technical support) that we are able to negotiate depends on the number of hotel rooms we use/sell. Unfortunately this mean that if we don’t use a lot of hotel rooms, the costs of these other aspects of the conference rises precipitously.
The disproportionate number of quads to singles that are typically booked at SPSP given the high proportion of student attendees means the ratio of rooms sold to conference space and services needed is relatively unfavorable compared to most other conferences. These needs/constraints put us in a relatively weak position when we try to negotiate contracts with hotel/conference venues in highly desirable locations. If we want to continue to hold the conference in attractive locations and provide deeply discounted registration fees for students, while still securing sufficient space to make the conference workable, we must be able to guarantee (and fill) a substantial room block. Else we will need to re-think our conference model, and entertain possibilities like going to Tier 3 or 4 cities (Topeka, Tulsa), some of which would be more expensive to travel to because of their location. Given these realities, we believe that committing to (and filling) a large room block in the conference hotel is justifiable. It enables us to schedule the conference in places people want to go, at prices they can afford, while still providing the leverage we need to obtain sufficient meeting room space and other resources.
So long story short: If too many attendees book hotel rooms outside the conference block, the society’s ability to host the type of conference we have all come to expect at prices that we can afford would be seriously jeopardized. We know the fees aren’t popular, but the board is convinced of their necessity to guarantee sufficiently large room blocks. SPSP is deeply committed to keeping the conference affordable for students and believes that these fees are key to our ability to do so. By guaranteeing the room block we do, we are convinced that we save our students much more than $50, especially in light of reduced registration fees, discounted room rates, free food during breaks and at receptions, etc.
Childcare – Providing childcare was extensively investigated by the society and offered from 2011-2013, but was canceled after 2013 because it was seldom used. It’s very expensive because of the insurance/liability issues and given so few people made use of it, the cost could not be justified. The nursing mother’s room was requested/added three years ago but has rarely been used in three years. The short answer here is that the society has been accommodating, but found that there is almost no demand for family friendly accommodations at the conference. The central office nonetheless always provides information about local childcare services people can individually use as needed.
In the meantime, we are streaming more talks, and the Training Committee is working to provide more training opportunities online rather than relying so much on on-site training. We’re also open to other proposals from the DCC that would increase accessibility of our conference to all members, including those with young children.
Finally, a comment was made at the Town Hall that criticized SPSP for paying for a diver at the aquarium event. Members should know that Sona Systems paid for the diver and underwrote a good deal of the costs of the aquarium event, which allowed us to charge students only $15 instead of the usual $40 aquarium entrance fee, something the SPSP staff negotiated in an effort to make the event more accessible to all of our members.
In closing, the SPSP leadership genuinely appreciates bringing concerns forward and allowing us to share some greater background and justifications for some of the society’s choices. The door is always open to dialogue and we encourage our members to reach out to us or the central office anytime you have questions or concerns about any of the society’s activities or programs.
--SPSP Board of Directors
March 29, 2018