TRAC Under Fire for Inaccessible General Assembly

At-Risk Populations Are Still Fighting for Equal Access to Meetings

In-person meetings are inaccessible to at-risk populations. Graphic Nadine Abdellatif

Michael Iantorno, a Concordia PhD student who is immunocompromised due to a chronic illness, attended Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia Union’s general assembly over Zoom on Nov. 9.

He specified that although he is willing to join meetings in-person, he joined TRAC’s GA virtually to see how accessible it was for those who are not. “I’m glad I went, but disappointed about the results,” he said.

On Nov. 7, Technoculture, Art and Games Research Lab published an open letter—drafted by their student membership, of which Iantorno is included—to TRAC denouncing the union’s statements concerning their stance on hybrid meetings.

In TRAC’s original statement, they announced their GA would only be in-person due to the difficulties that lie in organizing hybrid meetings. However, in light of the several requests for a virtual meeting option TRAC received, they complied in an updated statement. 

In their most recent statement, TRAC explained the GA would be hybrid; however, they claimed they could not “offer equal access to the meeting for those who attend via Zoom” due to a lack of “technological [and] human resources.” This stemmed from a lack of organization and knowledge about hybrid meetings, claimed Concordia doctoral student Brock Dishart, who volunteered for TRAC’s mental health action committee last year. 

“It seems clear to me, they do not think they have to respect their own mission statement.” — Brock Dishart

Dishart, who is also a student representative for TAG, explained how after reading TRAC’s two statements, it appeared to them as though accessibility is not a matter the union believes is necessary to consider when planning meetings.

To Iantorno, it is unacceptable “to not even strive for equal access [...]. You should design accessibility at the forefront of events.” He added that people who are already marginalized should not be responsible for ensuring accessibility to events.

The purpose of TAG’s open letter was not “to simply wag a finger at TRAC,” explained Iantorno. “We were trying to call them in.”

The research lab members have successfully run several hybrid meetings over the past few years, he added, and were willing to share their expertise with the union on how to make meetings accessible to everyone. 

Iantorno said TAG has yet to hear back from TRAC.

Sam Thomson, President of TRAC, explained that hybrid meetings are imperfect, “especially [for] an organization with limited resources.” People who attended the GA online were able to vote and “make interventions,” he added, “but sometimes, because of the contingencies of technology and the spaces we’re in, it is harder [for online members] to participate [in hybrid meetings].” 

According to Iantorno, the sound quality was awful and no audio transcription was provided. He added that he had to abstain from all votes because by the time he raised his hand to vote in favour of a motion, the votes in opposition were already being counted.

“The quality of participation was much lower [for people over Zoom] and I don’t think they could equally participate,” Iantorno said, clarifying that his internet connection was not the source of the problem.

TAG’s open letter highlighted that “[a]ccessibility is not an afterthought,” and reminded the union of its mandate “to build […] a society that […] ensure[s] everyone is able to contribute to their fullest potential.”    

"It seems clear to me," said Dishart, "they do not think they have to respect their own mission statement.”

“If we learned anything from the pandemic—and we’re still in the pandemic—[it’s that] these events need to be hybrid and they need to be accessible,” Iantorno said.

Dishart emphasized that since 2022 is the deadliest year on record in terms of COVID deaths in Quebec, TRAC should ask organizations such as TAG for help on how to run hybrid meetings. 

This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 7, published November 22, 2022.