When the 2020 ATTW conference was postponed to 2021 and transitioned to a virtual event, ATTW hired conference strategist Dr. Khirsten L. Scott—Director of the Design and Coordination Division of Intentional Events and Co-Founder of DBLAC, Digital Black Lit and Composition—to work with our organization and conference co-chairs, Drs. Laura Gonzales and Ann Shivers-McNair, to intentionally design the program and our virtual conference in ways that are innovative, inclusive, accessible, and equitable.

Conference Theme: Language, Access, and Power in Technical Communication

Stemming from early definitions of technical communicators as translators who transform techno-scientific information for lay audiences (Slack, Miller, & Doak, 1993; Weiss, 1997) to more recent acknowledgements of the role that community expertise plays in leading scientific and technological change (Blythe, Grabill, & Riley, 2008; Durá, Singhal, & Elias, 2013; Rose et al., 2017; Simmons & Grabill, 2007), it is clear that language, access, and power matter to the field of technical communication. Indeed, language, access, and power are at the heart of our ever-expanding, increasingly globalized work (Haas & Eble, 2018), which includes

      • facilitating communication in risk environments (Boiarsky, 2016),

      • building experiences and infrastructures for collaboration and participation across languages and contexts (Batova & Clark, 2015; Potts, 2014),

      • working against injustice through intercultural and international knowledges (Agboka, 2013; Yu & Savage, 2013),

      • developing critical power tools (Scott, Longo, & Wills, 2006),

      • designing pedagogies that expand what counts as technical communication and information (Banks, 2006; Del Hierro, 2018),

      • critically examining agency in legal literacies (Hannah, 2010),

      • centering disability and difference (Zdenek, 2018; Oswal & Melonçon, 2014), and

      • intervening in equity and access in healthcare contexts (Frost & Haas, 2017; Kennedy, 2018; Teston, 2017).

Enacting our roles as agents of accessibility, social justice, and change (Jones, 2016; Jones, Walton, & Moore, 2016), technical communicators can leverage languages to build and break access and to foster and disrupt established power structures (Jones & Williams, 2017; Kynell- Hunt & Savage, 2004; Williams & Pimentel, 2016).

While much of our work in technical communication has focused on language, access, and/or power independently, the 2020 ATTW conference call invites researchers and teachers in the field to make intentional connections among these areas to recognize how they interlock and intersect (Crenshaw, 1990; Medina & Haas, 2018). For example, we invite presenters to consider intersections between and among language, access, and power in relation to race and disability, risk and agency, healthcare and globalization, user-experience and community engagement, and more. Through these connections, we encourage technical communicators to use our 2021 virtual gathering space to build community and, as Cecilia Shelton (2019) argues, “shift out of neutral,” specifically by recognizing the material impacts, consequences, and intersectional possibilities of the languages we use, develop, include, exclude, and sustain in our work. Recognizing both the polarizing and communing potential of language, access, and power, we invite you to join us in acknowledging our positionalities and responsibilities as we develop better relationships, possibilities, knowledges, and practices through our work in technical communication.