Planning Accessible Meetings
Planning meetings that are accessible to all of your attendees is of benefit to everyone. It means more however, to take the planning a step further by not only making the event accessible, but to make sure that accessibility is as convenient and useful as possible.
In an ideal world (if you could tell the future) this process would begin not with the venue but with event registration. Since you need a location and a venue before you begin having individuals register in most cases, this is not really an option. One thing you can do is to consider your population of attendees. Who has come in the past? Who would like to come but feels limited by accessibility options? A great way to gain some insight here would be to survey your attendee basis. You should be asking individuals in need of accommodations what they require and how you can help:
Do you know how many attendees will need accessibility accommodations?
The accommodations for a few expected disabled attendees will be different than for instance a conference with many attendees who need accommodations.
- Do you know what sort of accommodations are required?
There are a myriad of disabilities types. While each situation is unique, you should seek to find out if a large portion of your attendees are hearing impaired, vision impaired, mobility impaired, etc.
Having an idea of the answer to these questions will help you to get started with your event planning. Even though the registration usually comes after the planning, you can and should still ask your attendees what accommodations you can make for them. This data will not only be useful during your event but might be good insight for future events.
You want your attendees to have a great experience from the second they arrive in your location, until the minute they leave. So transportation is a very important component to planning accessible meetings. You need to know if you will need to provide transportation for your attendees– but even if you aren’t going to be providing transportation as part of the event, you still need to know that attendees who are mobility impaired will have a reliable option for arriving at your venue. Taking the extra step to insure that your attendees who need this type of accommodation for transportation will be worth it! Some situations that you might consider transportation for are:
Getting attendees from airport to venue (if there aren’t reliable options readily available)
Large venues such as resorts where attendees may need to go long distances or move between buildings
Large venues where the parking may be far from the actual venue.
You can mitigate many situations where your attendees may have a difficult time at large venues by providing a shuttle service with a golf cart.
Venues & Hotels
Venues and hotels are virtually all handicap accessible thanks to ADA guidelines, however as the event planner, you need to consider your attendee basis. This is why it is so important to have an idea of how many attendees will need accommodations and what type, as mentioned above. Does your venue need to accommodate 5 individuals with mobility impairment? Or 50?
Another thing to consider is that not all ADA accessible venues are created equally, in fact, many older establishments are retrofitted to meet ADA guidelines- which means many of the accommodations are after thoughts- and not always the most helpful. One individual we interviewed for the purpose of researching this article (mobility impaired) stated that “wheelchair ramps are often too steep to be able to go up without help” (Sarah Wolf, South Carolina). Other complaints about using wheelchairs in buildings include: bathroom doors that are too heavy to push open, bathroom stalls that don’t fit wheelchairs inside, sinks and soap dispensers being too tall to reach from a seated position and wheelchair paths being at angles, which can make it difficult to push a wheelchair on. Other wheelchair accessibility considerations for the event planner may be:
Is the event room on the first floor? If not, how many elevators are available and are they easy to access?
Are ADA accessible bathrooms close by the event room or easily accessible?
Mobility impaired due to wheelchair usage is not the only concern for planning accessible meetings. Some attendees may be able to walk but not for long distances, or they may use canes, crutches or other walking assistance. Attendees who are vision impaired will also have a difficult time navigating your venue. Making sure that the necessities are within close proximity to your event (bathroom, food, parking) OR that you have a plan for assisting attendees with mobility impairment to access these locations without excessive struggle or difficulty is a great foundation for planning an accessible event.
All of these same ideas are true for hotels. If you are planning a multi-day event, consider choosing a venue that also has lodging accommodations and block reserving the ADA rooms in advance so that your attendees will have preference during the event. Choosing a venue with a hotel and restaurants is a great option and prevents the attendees from having to leave multiple times each day, which will eliminate much of the stress for these individuals.
Other disability considerations
There are many other disabilities that you can help to accommodate by simply being mindful in your planning. Here are a few ideas below:
-You may consider printing event literature in braille
-Offer a concierge service or guide to make venue navigation easier
Hearing impaired attendees may benefit from a sign language interpreter in the event.
You may also consider closed captioning the presenter’s information if you are unable to hire an interpreter.
It would also be beneficial to have support staff available knowledgeable in ASL to communicate with hearing impaired individuals in case of emergency.
Many Americans take medications every day. Some individuals, like Type 1 diabetics might depend on insulin injections multiple times, everyday. Providing a sharps container in restrooms for syringes is beneficial for all attendees’ safety.
Planning a fantastic accessible event is not so difficult. With a little bit of research, foresight and consideration you can create a great event that is inclusive and accessible for everybody!