Events are fun and exciting, but not everyone can enjoy them equally. Some people may have trouble attending or joining events because of their disabilities or other factors. Such difficulties can make them feel left out or frustrated and can limit their opportunities to learn, network, and have fun.
As an event planner, you have the power and the responsibility to make your events more accessible and inclusive for everyone. Accessibility is not only a legal and ethical obligation but also a smart and friendly practice that can benefit everyone involved.
According to the University of Kansas (KU) Event Accessibility and Accommodation Policy and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all public gatherings, conferences, and meetings must be accessible. Regardless of their abilities, needs, or preferences, an event should be open and usable for as many people as possible.
As we explore further, we will discuss the significance of accessible events and offer practical advice and industry best practices to help you design experiences that accommodate everyone.
- What are Accessible Events and Why are They Important?
- Different Types of Disabilities
- Practical Tips and Best Practices for Planning Accessible Events
- Accessible Venue
- Emergency Procedures
- Accessible Parking Spaces
- Communication and Information
- Adequate Space for Service Animals
- Promote Early and Ensure Clarity
- Flexible Schedule
- Trained Staff and Volunteers
- Digital Accessibility
- Inclusive Catering
- Sensory Consideration
- Feedback Mechanism
- Legal and Ethical Obligations of Event Planners
- Accessible Events Checklist
- Pre-event planning:
- Venue Selection:
- Accessible Parking Spaces:
- Registration Process:
- Technology and AV Equipment
- Event staff training
- Dietary Accommodations
- Emergency Preparedness
- Inclusive Activities
- Feedback Mechanism
- Post-event evaluation
What are Accessible Events and Why are They Important?
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.3 billion people—16% of the world population—have some form of disability. This number is expected to rise as the population ages and chronic diseases become more prevalent. Moreover, disability is not a fixed or static condition but rather a dynamic and diverse experience that can affect anyone at any point in their lives.
Accessible events, by definition, are meticulously crafted to cater to the needs and preferences of individuals with disabilities. Accessibility includes more than just the physical surroundings; it also covers communication, information, technology, and services offered throughout the event.
In the context of virtual events or hybrid events, the principles of accessibility remain crucial. Virtual events should prioritize accessible platforms, communication channels, and materials to ensure an inclusive experience for participants with disabilities. Hybrid events require careful planning to seamlessly integrate accessibility features for both physical and online attendees.
The significance of accessible events is multi-faceted. They;
- Respect the rights and dignity of individuals with disabilities.
- Foster diversity and inclusion by enabling the active participation and benefit of individuals with diverse abilities, backgrounds, and perspectives.
- Enhance event quality and impact by increasing the attendance, engagement, and satisfaction of attendees, speakers, sponsors, and organizers.
- Improve their reputation and image by demonstrating their commitment to social responsibility and customer service.
By creating accessible events, you can not only comply with legal and ethical standards but also create a positive and memorable event experience for everyone.
Different Types of Disabilities
Disability is a wide-ranging and intricate idea that includes different challenges people might face in various situations. It can be temporary or permanent, visible or invisible, mild or severe, and can affect one or more aspects of a person’s functioning.
Event organizers should be aware of the different types of disabilities that their potential attendees may have and how they may affect their access to and participation in events. Some of the common types of disabilities are:
People with these impairments affect the ability to move or coordinate the body, such as paralysis, arthritis, or cerebral palsy. They use helpful tools like wheelchairs, crutches, canes, or prosthetics to make it easier for them to move.
Hearing impairments include problems that affect a person’s ability to hear or understand sounds, such as deafness, hearing loss, or tinnitus. People who experience hearing disabilities often use assistive devices, such as hearing aids, to facilitate effective communication.
Visual impairments impact a person’s ability to see or understand visual information, including conditions like blindness, low vision, or color blindness. Individuals with visual impairments often rely on assistive listening devices and helpful tools like glasses, magnifiers, or screen readers to make it easier for them to access and understand information.
Cognitive impairments impact a person’s ability to think, learn, remember, or concentrate. These conditions include autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dementia. Individuals with cognitive impairments often use tools like calendars, reminders, or simplified instructions to help them understand and participate in activities.
Other impairments impact different aspects of the body or mind, including speech, mental health, or chronic pain. Individuals with these impairments might use tools like speech synthesizers, medication, or therapy to support their well-being and communication.
Practical Tips and Best Practices for Planning Accessible Events
Planning accessible events may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With research, advice, and creativity, event planners can make events that everyone can enjoy. Here are some practical tips for planning accessible events:
Event planners should select a venue that is accessible to people with different types of disabilities and that meets the standards and guidelines for accessibility in their location.
Some of the aspects that event planners should consider when choosing and preparing an accessible venue are:
A venue should provide easily accessible drop-off and pick-up locations for guests arriving by private or public transportation. Give clear directions and maps, and let people know about accessible transportation options and their costs. Consider offering shuttle services or subsidies for attendees who may need them.
To facilitate wheelchair users’ access to all sections, ensure that the venue is equipped with lifts, elevators, or a temporary ramp. Wheelchairs and other mobility aids should have unobstructed access to all halls, doors, and routes. Examine any steps, obstructions, or uneven surfaces that wheelchair users might find difficult or dangerous.
Additionally, allocate a space of 36 inches by 48 inches for a single wheelchair seat or 33 inches each for two wheelchair seats. Additionally, reserve seats for individuals who may require accompaniment by a personal assistant, ensuring a well-lit environment for those with visual needs.
Event planners should ensure that accessible restrooms are marked and located near the main areas of the event, including temporary events, private businesses, commercial facilities, and public events. These restrooms should feature accessible sinks, faucets, soap dispensers, and towel dispensers. Most importantly, they should be spacious, clean, and equipped with grab bars, handrails, and emergency buttons.
As an event organizer, having a comfortable and flexible seating arrangement is a priority to ensure that all attendees feel welcome and accommodated. Offer different options like chairs, sofas, cushions, or bean bags, and let people pick where they want to sit.
Additionally, consider alternative seating arrangements to accommodate specific accessibility requirements, working closely with accessibility coordinators if needed. All participants face the direction of the speaker/presentation (use half of the round tables, one side of the square or oblong ones).
For attendees with vision disabilities, ensure the venue has well-thought-out lighting. Choose steady lights and spread them out evenly for a comfortable setting. Avoid the use of flashing or strobe lights that might be discomforting for attendees with vision impairments.
Additionally, use both natural and artificial light wisely to enhance the visibility and readability of visual materials, especially for those with vision difficulties.
For larger events, the venue should have clear and visible signage that can guide and inform attendees about the location and layout of the venue and its facilities. You should use capital letters and legible fonts, contrasting colors, and pictograms or symbols to create signage. Use braille, audio, or tactile formats to create signage that can be accessed by people with visual impairments.
The venue should have assistive technology that can facilitate the communication and participation of attendees with different types of disabilities. Event organizers are encouraged to offer devices and services such as:
This can help attendees access and engage with the content and speakers of the event. If applicable, coordinate with sign language interpreters to enhance accessibility, especially in commercial facilities, private businesses, and public event spaces that may involve a visual element.
The venue should develop emergency procedures prioritizing the safety of all attendees during unforeseen incidents, including inclement weather. Provide clear instructions on evacuation protocols, safe areas, and emergency contacts. Ensure accessibility with details on entrances, exits, and routes.
Trained staff and volunteers for attendees with disabilities during emergencies are essential for a comprehensive and secure event experience, especially at public events like sporting events. Consider accessible design, including temporary structures, to promote equal access for everyone.
Accessible Parking Spaces
Event planners must offer ample and easily accessible parking, including van-accessible spaces, for attendees with disabilities, ensuring clear marking and reservations. To achieve this, carefully review state and local building codes for parking.
- Follow rules for easy use, including the count, size, and spot of accessible parking, as well as accessible entrances and paths.
- Anticipating demand and availability, event planners should reserve more than enough accessible spaces to accommodate guests with disabilities.
- To use parking spaces safely, people with wheelchairs or other mobility aids need more space than is available in typical, non-accessible settings.
- Additionally, effective communication is key: event planners should inform attendees with disabilities about parking and give directions and maps to accessible spaces and entrances.
Communication and Information
Effective communication greatly impacts the accessibility of an event. To ensure all attendees with disabilities can easily access information, event planners should offer clear and accessible communication before, during, and after the event.
Considerations for providing accessible communication include:
The information desk serves as the primary point of contact and assistance for attendees with disabilities. Event planners should ensure it’s easily accessible, visible, and staffed by trained and friendly personnel ready to offer information and guidance.
The desk should also provide accessible materials such as maps, schedules, brochures, and feedback forms to cater to various types of disabilities.
Event registration, being the initial step, should be accessible and straightforward for everyone. Planners should provide accessible registration methods, such as online, by phone, or by mail. This allows attendees to specify their accessibility needs, including dietary requirements, seating preferences, or assistive devices.
Additionally, confirmation and reminder messages should be accessible through email, text, or phone, with efforts made to confirm and accommodate attendees’ accessibility requests when possible.
Sign Language Interpreter
A sign language interpreter is a professional who bridges communication between those using sign language and those who don’t. Planners must provide qualified interpreters for deaf or hard-of-hearing attendees upon request. It is crucial to ensure these interpreters are experienced and familiar with the event’s content.
The sign language interpreter should also use the sign language that is preferred by the attendees, such as American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), or Filipino Sign Language (FSL).
Moreover, adequate seating and lighting should be arranged to make interpreters visible and audible for attendees requiring their services.
Adequate Space for Service Animals
Allocating space for service animals is crucial for enhancing event accessibility. Planners should ensure there are appropriate facilities for attendees with service animals, like guide dogs, hearing dogs, or emotional support animals, to assist them with their disabilities.
Considerations when preparing this space include:
- Permission and identification: Establish a clear and consistent policy for admitting and accommodating service animals. Service animal users must show proof (ID cards, tags, and vests) and follow responsible guidelines.
- Access and comfort: Ensure service animals have full access and comfort at the venue, providing designated spaces and amenities like water, food, and waste disposal. Maintain a safe environment by avoiding loud noises, strong smells, or hazardous materials.
Promote Early and Ensure Clarity
Effective event promotion significantly impacts accessibility. Planners should start promoting events early, providing clear information about accessibility features.
Some of the aspects that event planners should consider when promoting their events are:
Timing and Channels
Promote events early using diverse channels like websites, social media, email, flyers, or word-of-mouth to give potential attendees ample time to learn and register. Start promotion a few weeks or months in advance to attract a diverse and inclusive audience.
Content and Format
Ensure promotion content is accurate and comprehensive, providing potential attendees with key details like date, time, location, agenda, speakers, sponsors, and the registration process. Highlight accessibility features such as venue, parking, communication, information, service animals, catering, and emergency procedures.
Use clear language, contrasting colors, and legible fonts for materials that are easily understood by everyone. Additionally, it offers alternative formats like audio, video, or braille for accessibility.
Feedback and Backup
Feedback and updates for promotion should give potential attendees a chance to share input, receive accurate event information, and express accessibility needs. Encourage attendees to communicate preferences, questions, or concerns, providing contact details like phone, email, or social media for easy communication.
Ensure timely updates on changes, cancellations, or reminders are conveyed through preferred channels and formats.
Organizers should create a flexible schedule with ample breaks, avoiding session overlaps and conflicts. You should provide diverse options and alternatives for attendee enjoyment and participation, taking into account different time zones, cultures, and preferences.
Trained Staff and Volunteers
When it comes to staff and volunteers, their role is crucial for the event’s accessibility. Planners should ensure a diverse and qualified team that mirrors the event’s audience. The selection process must be fair, encouraging people with disabilities to apply. Providing reasonable accommodations and incentives, like flexible hours or accessible transportation, is essential.
Training and orientation should cover event goals, roles, accessibility features, and working with people with disabilities. Supervision should be effective, with clear feedback and recognition for the team’s efforts.
Also, event planners should appreciate staff and volunteers by recognizing their contributions and rewarding them with certificates, gifts, or referrals.
Event planners should prioritize digital accessibility to ensure all attendees, including those with disabilities, can fully engage online. This involves making the event’s website and app user-friendly and compliant with accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Include keyboard navigation, screen reader compatibility, text resizing, and color contrast, and prioritize testing and resolving accessibility issues promptly.
For online events, event planners should choose platforms that work well across devices and browsers, offering features like video, audio, chat, polling, and Q&A. Clear instructions and support for accessing and troubleshooting technical issues should be provided to attendees.
When it comes to event content, such as slides, posters, and videos, it should be available in accessible formats like PDF, DOC, or MP4. Including features like headings, lists, tables, and alternative formats such as audio, video, or braille will help all attendees, regardless of their needs or preferences.
Event planners should ensure inclusive catering that accommodates diverse dietary needs and preferences, considering options like vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, or halal. You should collaborate with caterers and attendees, providing clear information on menu ingredients, allergens, and nutritional values.
The location and layout should be accessible and comfortable, considering proximity to main areas, ample seating, and features like ramps. Suitable furnishings should be provided for attendees with different disabilities.
Event planners should consider sensory needs, like noise, smell, or touch, for attendees who may have sensitivities or preferences. They should ensure a comfortable noise level and quality by offering options like headphones or quiet zones. Smell intensity and type should be pleasant, with alternatives like masks or scent-free zones.
Touch texture and temperature should be suitable, with options like gloves or fans for those wanting adjustments.
Planners should offer diverse options like surveys, forms, interviews, or focus groups, ensuring accessibility for attendees with different disabilities through online, offline, or in-person formats.
The content should be flexible, covering various aspects like venue, parking, communication, and satisfaction, using clear and simple language.
Questions should be optional, anonymous, and respect attendees’ privacy. After collecting feedback, planners must analyze and act upon it, identifying strengths, weaknesses, trends, and suggestions.
A clear plan for implementing improvements should be communicated to attendees, thanking them for their valuable contributions.
Legal and Ethical Obligations of Event Planners
Planning accessible events is not just a good practice. It’s a legal and ethical obligation that every event planner must possess to ensure that their events are accessible and inclusive for everyone, regardless of their abilities.
These obligations are based on the principles and standards of human rights, disability rights, and anti-discrimination laws, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
These obligations require event planners to:
- Respect: Respect the dignity, autonomy, and diversity of people with disabilities, and treat them with courtesy and consideration.
- Consult: Consult with people with disabilities and involve them in the planning, design, and evaluation of the events.
- Accommodate: Accommodate the needs and preferences of people with disabilities and provide reasonable and appropriate adjustments and modifications to the events.
- Eliminate: Eliminate the barriers and challenges that prevent or limit the participation and enjoyment of people with disabilities in the events.
- Prevent: Prevent the discrimination, harassment, or exclusion of people with disabilities from the events, and take action to address any complaints or grievances that may arise.
Accessible Events Checklist
- Identify and understand the needs of potential attendees with disabilities.
- Establish an accessibility committee or designate a person responsible for accessibility.
- Create an accessibility policy and communicate it to all stakeholders.
- Wheelchairs are accessible with ramps and elevators.
- Availability of accessible parking spaces and drop-off points.
- Restrooms are equipped with accessible facilities.
- Is the main entrance accessible and well-lit?
- Doors are easy to open (automatic or push-button door openers, lever handles) and lightweight.
- Comfortable space for service animals to rest during the event; accessible toileting and watering facilities nearby.
Accessible Parking Spaces:
- Parking spaces are near the bus stop.
- A van-accessible parking space provides an additional 3 feet of width to accommodate vehicles equipped with ramps or lifts.
____ Total Number of Parking Spaces in Parking Facility
____ Minimum Number of van-accessible parking spaces.
- At least one of every six accessible parking spaces must be “van accessible.”.
- Ample accessible parking space, marked with a symbol of accessibility, located on the shortest route nearest the accessible entrance.
- Uses adaptive devices and electrical outlets in transportation options (public and private).
- Provide event information in multiple formats (text, audio, video).
- Use accessibility features in promotional materials.
- Offer a dedicated contact person for accessibility inquiries.
_____ Number of Individuals with Disability.
_____ Number of Contact Persons Designated for Individuals with Impairments.
- A will-lit space for an interpreter if needed?
- Offer online registration with accessible forms.
- Include options for attendees to specify accessibility needs during registration.
- Communicate the availability of accommodations.
- Arrange for assistive devices (e.g., sign language interpreters, captioning).
- Accessible seating options and reserve spaces for wheelchair users.
- Communicate policies regarding service animals.
Technology and AV Equipment
- Printed event materials (programs, handouts, etc.) and introductory remarks to remind participants to clear those areas of bags, chairs, or other items that can cause barriers.
- No loose cable across walking areas.
- All electronic materials are accessible (e.g., screen reader compatibility).
- Test and confirm the accessibility of audio-visual equipment.
- Provide charging stations for electronic devices.
Event staff training
- Train staff on assisting attendees with disabilities.
- Familiarize staff with the location of accessible facilities.
- Establish a communication plan for staff to assist participants effectively.
- Clear and visible signage with high color contrast.
- Include Braille on signage where applicable.
- Large, easy-to-read fonts on printed materials.
- Accessible transportation options to and from the venue.
- Event transportation is accessible for all participants.
- Collect information on dietary restrictions during registration.
- Coordinate with caterers to provide a variety of accessible food options.
- Plan the menu according to dietary restrictions.
- Has an emergency evacuation plan that is accessible to everyone.
- Staff are trained to assist participants with disabilities during emergencies.
- The person in charge of accessibility is familiar with the emergency plan for inclement weather and evacuation from the building or space to ensure accessible exits.
- Select and tour the venue to ensure it is physically accessible.
- Check if the venue can be temporarily adjusted.
- Check if the venue has more space for wheelchair users.
- Activities are inclusive and accessible to participants of all abilities.
- Provide alternative options for activities that may be challenging for?????
- Participants can provide feedback on accessibility.
- Use feedback to improve future events and address any shortcomings.
- Conduct a post-event evaluation with a focus on accessibility.
- Analyze the feedback received and document successful practices for future events.
Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about planning accessible events:
1. Why is accessibility good for everyone?
Accessibility enhances event quality and experience for everyone involved—attendees, speakers, sponsors, and organizers. It also brings about societal and economic benefits by promoting the inclusion, participation, and contributions of people with disabilities. It also represents a diverse and substantial pool of potential customers, partners, and collaborators.
2. What is the purpose of accessibility?
Accessibility aims to guarantee that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can fully and equally enjoy events. It also strives to foster a culture and community of respect, diversity, and inclusion where everyone feels welcome, valued, and empowered.
3. How can I evaluate and improve my event accessibility after the event?
You can evaluate and enhance event accessibility by gathering and analyzing feedback from attendees, speakers, sponsors, and organizers. Identify strengths and weaknesses, compare accessibility standards, and learn from other event planners to plan more accessible events in the future.
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