Disability support and services at the Trans*-Health Conference

Every year Mazzoni Center works to ensure the Philadelphia Trans*-Health Conference will be accessible to as many attendees as possible, in a number of ways - first and foremost by offering the 250+ workshops in the general track of the conference free of charge.  Our staff also works to make the conference physically accessible to the many people with disabilities who attend every year, whether that means connecting people with mobility needs with wheelchairs or escorts, ensuring that service dogs are welcome, or arranging ASL interpreters for many of the workshops.   
Simon Pedisich is a Navigation Specialist in Mazzoni Center’s HIV Prevention department and for the past four years has also served as Accessibility Coordinator for our annual Philadelphia Trans*-Health Conference.  
Creating safe and welcoming spaces for people of all identities and abilities is a longtime passion for Simon, who is is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), and is working toward certification and licensure to be an ASL/English interpreter.
A big part of Simon’s role at the conference is coordinating interpreters for d/Deaf and hard of hearing attendees, which they do in collaboration with Brian Morrison, who heads the ASL/English Interpreting program at Community College of Philadelphia. 
“For the most part we coordinate interpreters,” they say, “so we reach out to d/Deaf folks or other people that use ASL and get their conference schedule, and then locate interpreters who can interpret the workshops they plan to attend,” Simon says. 
Demand for ASL interpreters has been strong in recent years, and Simon says the 2016 conference is no exception.  “This year we had over 80 workshops that were interpreted, including some on the professional track,” they say.  “We also had four workshops by deaf presenters, which is pretty amazing.”
Additional services and supports
Simon explains that this year we added a number of additional services aimed at helping people navigate the often bustling spaces within the Pennsylvania Convention Center over the course of the three-day conference.
“I also work with folks that have mobility issues or need a guide,” Simon says, adding that this year the conference had a wider accessibility lane in the main workshop areas, to prevent bottlenecking and improve the flow of traffic. “Sometimes we have to gently remind people to keep moving and just be aware of the people around them, so that those who are using wheelchairs or use other accommodations for walking have an easier time,” they explain. 
This year the conference featured a separate registration line for people who need support services, so that they wouldn't have to wait in a long line.
“And for the first time we’re having a dedicated “support services” table,” Simon says, “so we’ll have a central hub for any questions or concerns people have during their time at the conference.”
“We also had interpreters at Mazzoni’s mobile HIV testing unit from 2 to 4 PM all three days of the conference, which was another first for this year,” Simon says.  “So that’s really exciting, too.”
The mobile testing unit was stationed at the corner of Broad & Arch Streets, just outside the convention center, to offer free rapid HIV tests throughout the conference.
Simon explains the importance of working with interpreters who are not only fluent in ASL, but also understanding and sensitive to the needs of the trans and gender nonconforming people who attend the conference. 
In response to the work Simon and Brian have been doing with the conference, The Pennsylvania Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf recently held a special training in trans competency for a large group of interpreters.  “It was amazing,” Simon says, “and it all happened so that these folks could contribute to the Trans*-Health Conference and then continue serving those communities.”
They note that the ASL interpreters who work at the conference “are really excited about being here - they block it off a year in advance on their calendars.” 
Simon and their colleagues are always working to improve the conference experience for everyone who attends, which is why they would encourage more people with accessibility needs or questions to get involved during the planning stages.
“I’d love to see more representation from these communities, to help us anticipate and plan for the various accommodations that will make the conference accessible for as many people as we can,” Simon says.
Anyone with feedback, questions, or an interest in planning for next year’s conference should stop by the support services table at the convention center, or get in touch via email: [email protected].

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