Access Guidelines

Access Guidelines for MLA Convention Session Organizers and Speakers

The MLA is committed to making arrangements that allow all members of the association to participate in the convention. Therefore, the MLA requests that all session organizers and presenters review the following information and take the necessary steps to make their sessions accessible to attendees with permanent or temporary disabilities. While the guidelines listed below have been designed to provide access to attendees with disabilities, many will benefit all convention participants.

Room Setup

Space has been left for two wheelchairs in each meeting room. Please keep this area and the aisles clear for persons who may be using wheelchairs, canes, crutches, or motorized vehicles. Space should be left around the doors and aisles to allow access.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing and who use sign language interpreters or read lips need to sit where they can see both the speakers and the interpreter. The interpreter may stand close to the speaker or within a direct line of sight to allow the audience to view both the speaker and the interpreter. Speakers should be aware of the location of interpreters and attempt to keep this line of vision clear.

Papers, Handouts, and Audiovisuals

Speakers should bring five copies of their papers, even in draft form, for the use of members who wish or need to follow a written text. Speakers who use handouts should prepare three copies in large-print format (boldface 14–16-point font size) and briefly describe or read all handouts to the audience. Avoid colored paper. Speakers should indicate whether they want their papers and handouts returned.

Consider the possibility that persons in the audience may be blind. Allow ample time when referring to a visual aid or handout or when pointing out the location of materials. Briefly describe the materials.

When not using an overhead projector, turn it off. This reduces background noise and helps focus audience attention on the speaker.

Communication and Presentation

Speak clearly and distinctly, but do not shout. Use regular speed unless asked to slow down by members of the audience, sign interpreters, or persons using real-time captioning.

Because microphones often fail to pick up voices in the audience, speakers should always repeat questions or statements made by members of the audience. In dialogues or discussions, only one person should speak at a time, and speakers should identify themselves so that audience members will know who is talking.

Avoid speaking from a darkened area of the room. Some people read lips, so the audience should have a direct and clear view of the speaker’s mouth and face.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, please write or call:

Karin Bagnall
Modern Language Association
26 Broadway, 3rd floor, New York, NY 10004-1789
phone: 646 576-5265; fax: 646 576-9930; TDD: 646 576-5148

Conducting Sessions

July 2011

Dear Colleague:

You have it in your power to make the convention a better experience, and I write to ask your help. Each year after the convention, I receive complaints about presenters who speak for more time than they should and presiders who fail to intervene when this happens. Several years ago, in addition to complaints, my office received some practical guidelines that convention participants can use to avoid difficulties, and the Program Committee asked me to call these suggestions to members’ attention. The committee also asked me to remind session chairs of their responsibilities:

  • to begin and end sessions on time
  • to inform speakers well in advance of the convention how long their talks should be
  • to warn speakers when their time is nearly up and to stop them when they exceed it
  • to ensure that there are at least fifteen minutes for discussion during each session

It would be difficult to overstate the disappointment and frustration people feel when speakers go over their allotted time and leave little or no opportunity for discussion. Listeners rightly hold the presiders responsible. When the time allotted for your session is up, aides will clear the rooms. Please do not count on the half-hour between sessions for discussion, be it formal or informal.

You are responsible for leaving time for discussion during your allotted time. If you have any questions, please let me know. I can be reached by telephone (646 576-5102) or by e-mail (

Sincerely yours,

Rosemary G. Feal
Executive Director

Guidelines for Speakers and Session Organizers

The MLA Program Committee approved the following guidelines for speakers and session organizers at the MLA convention.

  1. Assume that a page of double-spaced, typed material, in a standard elite-sized font, takes about two minutes to read, without any extemporaneous comments added during the reading. This means that it takes fifteen minutes to read seven and one-half pages and twenty minutes to read ten pages.
  2. A presenter who is likely to add extemporaneous comments during the reading should start with a paper that is shorter than the lengths noted above.
  3. A presenter who speaks extemporaneously (with or without notes) should rehearse the presentation to ensure that it will fit in the allotted time.
  4. Session organizers should be modest in their plans for including speakers and keep in mind that MLA policy requires fifteen minutes of each session to be reserved for discussion. A seventy-five-minute session therefore allows one hour for presentations and can accommodate three speakers, along with the presider’s introductions. A respondent should count as one of the three speakers. More presenters or respondents can participate only if the length of the individual presentations is reduced.

Amittai F. Aviram

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