Veronica With Four Eyes

Attending The Grace Hopper Celebration With Low Vision

In 2018, I was selected as one of ten winners for the Microsoft Women in Computing award and had the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. This conference is held in September/October and is the largest gathering of women and nonbinary people working in the technology industry. Here are my tips for attending the Grace Hopper Celebration with low vision, based on my own experiences.


As part of the Women in Computing award, I received an all-expenses paid trip to the conference, including food, lodging, and conference expenses, which was paid for by Microsoft. However, the resources I will be mentioning in this post are available for all conference attendees, and all opinions expressed are solely my own.

Request a human guide

I have a post on my website about how I decide whether I should request a human guide at a conference, and for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), it was absolutely critical to have one. GHC provided me with a paid human guide, which came at no additional cost to me or Microsoft, who helped me navigate the exhibit hall and figure out where to go for different classes and workshops. I met my human guide when I went to the registration desk on the second day of the conference- I hadn’t been able to find them on the first day since someone else had registered on my behalf.

Interested attendees can request a human guide when registering for GHC online- there is a section for access needs or disability accommodations. Alternatively, attendees can register to have their own personal care attendant travel with them- as an example, I once registered my brother under this category so he could act as my personal guide.

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Registering for sessions

GHC attendees must register for sessions in advance to ensure that the space does not hit maximum capacity. While the website does work with assistive technology, I used a visual assistant to help me with reading the descriptions of each setting, and wrote out a schedule in the Notes app to make sure I had time for breaks. Since I was a member of the Back to School program with Aira at the time, the assistant was able to pull up a map of the conference venue while helping me so they could make sure I could get to different rooms more easily. I also took note of which sessions would be recorded for later access.

When choosing topics for sessions, I wanted to focus on topics related to human-computer interaction, accessibility, inclusion, and design, since these were things I was excited about and also applied to my current degree program. But I also wanted to explore an area that interested me and that I didn’t know much about, so I also signed up for sessions related to data science and analytics, an area that had interested me in my other classes. I also attended a session or two on emerging technologies.

Some companies will schedule interviews for candidates at GHC- one of my friends interviewed with Microsoft at the conference as they had applied months earlier. However, there were no on-site interviews for positions I was applying for.

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Carrying copies of my resume

The exhibit hall is filled with hundreds of technology companies of various sizes which are recruiting to fill various positions at all levels. Attendees are encouraged to carry around paper copies of resumes, though to save space I saved my resume as a QR code and printed it on a business card, and also uploaded it to my conference profile. Recruiters had no issue with pulling up the digital copy, and it made it easier for me to carry items without aggravating back or shoulder pain. Two places specifically requested a printed resume, so I printed a copy back at the hotel and returned it to them the next day. Another benefit of using the QR code was that I could pull up my resume on my phone in large print and answer questions as the recruiter read it as well.

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Mapping out the exhibit hall

So how did I get through the exhibit hall? I researched several companies that would be attending the conference ahead of time, time and noted the tables I was most interested in visiting. I was prioritizing companies that were hiring early career accessibility and assistive technology positions, as well as companies that were offering Spring 2019 internships in program management. While on my way to these “priority” tables, I would stop at others that piqued my interest or that had particularly colorful booths- I’m naturally drawn to colorful things!

As we walked by, my human guide would announce the names of businesses and if they had anything interesting on their table that related to positions I was looking for, or that were part of an area I would be interested in. I had mentioned I was also casually exploring opportunities in data science and data visualization, so if we saw a table with a lot of charts or that talked about data science, we would also stop there- I would later change my major to data science after attending the conference.

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Talking to recruiters

While talking to recruiters and staff, my human guide would step back so that the recruiters would speak to me directly and not my guide. There were some companies that were incredibly enthusiastic about accessibility and accommodating disabled employees, and others that said they had no idea what accessibility meant or said that they had never met a person with vision loss before. I was grateful for their honesty, as I was personally looking for a company that had some existing accessibility training or knowledge in place, and I wanted to work in a position that would allow me to build upon that knowledge, not build it from scratch.

A lot of the questions I asked recruiters about were very similar to the questions I asked when choosing a college- I’ve linked those posts below.

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Networking with others

When I was walking through the conference floor, I met two other students my age with low vision who also use blindness canes, and we spent time talking about different assistive technology and accessibility strategies we had been using in our studies and profession. I had never met other students with low vision studying in the same degree program as me, and I learned a lot from them about how to navigate more advanced classes and different parts of the conference. They also told me about sessions to attend and suggested other people for me to talk to- Cassandra and Meredith, you are so cool! I also met another mid-career professional who was blind and she provided all three of us with tips on interviewing.

Another awesome person I got to meet is Liz, who also works with inclusive design and accessibility, and had been to the conference before. Liz uses a wheelchair, and showed me how to find accessible entrances for talks we would be attending, as well as other booths to check out.

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Attending conference-related events

A lot of tech companies host parties and events at night during GHC, and I attended a party sponsored by Microsoft that was open to all attendees, as well as an invite-only dinner and mentoring event. Since my guide did not attend these events, I mostly sat off to the side and talked to people as they came by, or sat with another award winner who would invite people to come talk to us. Admittedly, I left some of these events early because I was feeling fatigued by the end of the day and needed to rest my eyes- I’m glad I stopped by to network with people, but I didn’t have a lot of time to rest during the day and needed to get back to the hotel.

One of the most valuable lessons I received at these after-conference events was about disclosing disability- I was applying to internships and wasn’t sure how to request assistive technology I would need to do my job. When answering interview questions, I would naturally work in how I use assistive technology, such as mentioning reading something in large print or examining details of an image with screen magnification. Because I already had an idea of how I would use assistive technology to do my job, the company did not have to worry about me learning new skills and doing my job simultaneously.

Taking photos and getting conference swag

Grace Hopper Celebration has a lot of opportunities for taking fun photos and getting free items/swag. Since I didn’t want to pack an extra suitcase for free stuff, I mailed a box of items I received at the conference back to my house in Virginia, and then shared a bunch of the items with my brother and other people. This was easy to do since there was a postal service at the conference venue, and my guide helped me pack everything up.

As for photos, I took all photos with my own camera, or would ask the photographer to avoid using a flash. My favorite photo opportunity for the conference was the opportunity to meet the Target dog, Bullseye- and I also got a stuffed Bullseye that sits on top of my computer!

After the conference

Once I got back, I started following up with recruiters via email and social media, as well as adding my email to talent search lists. Following individual company employees on social media was more effective than following the company account when it came to answering questions or getting alerts on open positions.

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More tips on attending the Grace Hopper Celebration with low vision

  • There are several scholarship and award programs for attending GHC for free or at a reduced cost. Students pursuing higher education qualify for a 50% discount
  • I traveled to the conference by plane- learn more about flying with low vision in Tips For Passing Time On Flights With Low Vision and Airport Security and Low Vision
  • Since it can be overwhelming to track down food, I ordered items for delivery and would meet the delivery staff in front of a neighboring hotel, or pack food in single-use containers to bring with me
  • Some interviews may require specific dress codes, but most people dressed business casual, with comfortable shoes for walking. I wore a lot of dresses since they are easy to pack and paired them with flats.
  • I received a question from a reader about bringing a guide dog- while service animals are permitted, I did not personally see anyone using a guide dog and saw a lot of blindness cane users with a human guide.
  • One year, I was all set to attend GHC and ended up hospitalized the night before but was still able to get most of my money back. I talk about this in the post Travel Insurance and Chronic Illness

Here is a list of tips for attending The Grace Hopper Celebration For Women in Computing, from a blindness cane user with low vision