Skip to main content Accessibility Feedback

Masking is an inclusion and accessibility issue

Over the last few months, a lot of conferences that went fully remote have returned to in-person events.

And a shocking number of them—many from big organizations that preach inclusion and web accessibility—aren’t doing anything beyond the federally mandated minimum requirements to prevent the spread of COVID.

Masks are, frankly, an inclusion issue. If you don’t require them at your event, your event is not inclusive or accessible.

COVID is not over

I get it. People are tired of COVID. I am, too.

But COVID, unfortunately, is not tired of people. Vaccines have reduced immediate and acute death, sure. But a shocking number of people still die from COVID every week.

In the United States, it’s now the number two cause of death. It surpassed cancer a few months ago, and sits just below heart disease.

And then there’s long COVID, which affects up to a quarter of people who get COVID.

Devastating fatigue, heart issues, breathing issues, immune issues, cognitive decline, muscle atrophy, digestive issues, reproductive issues… the list goes on and on. You can be healthy. You can have a mild case. You can be vaccinated and boostered.

You can still get long COVID.

Which is why masking is an accessibility issue, and events that don’t require masks but evangelize web accessibility are, frankly, hypocritical.

Mask requirements are an accessibility requirement

Well fitting filtration masks are incredibly effective (source and source), but they’re not foolproof. The more people wear them, the more generally protected everyone in an indoor space is.

COVID disproportionately affects people with disabilities and those in marginalized communities.

“You do you” puts the most vulnerable at more risk. If I wear a mask, but no one around me does, I’m far more at risk of getting COVID than if everyone wears one.

Proper COVID protections are not…

I’ve been told, “we follow all federal and local guidelines.” Those are virtually non-existent, outdated, and not nearly good enough.

I’ve heard, “we provide masks to people who want them.” That doesn’t protect those people from all of the others who don’t wear one.

I’ve seen the CEO of the company that runs a big web developer event celebrate the removal of testing requirements for international travelers to their conference.

This is not inclusion. This is not accessibility.

This says to vulnerable people, “sorry, but you’re not important enough for us to make it safe for you to be here.”

It’s not that hard

Require masks.

N95/KN95 masks, not those flimsy surgical ones or useless cloth masks. Well fitted, properly positioned. Not below the nose. Not loose and full of gaps. Not below the chin.

It’s not hard, really. Magnolia JS did it. TPAC did it.

When these big conferences run by organizations that preach accessibility and inclusion in their other work say they can’t do it… well. They can. They just don’t want to.