Written by Kelly Hermann, VP: Accessibility, Equity & Inclusion, University of Phoenix

When it comes to event planning, there are many considerations to keep in mind to ensure that your attendees have a great experience.  The same holds true for attendees who might have disabilities.  Many of us have good intentions and are willing to make accommodations whenever an attendee asks for them.  It is important to make sure that your registration or RSVP process clearly states how attendees should request accommodations if they need them, at a minimum.  But there are a few other things that you can do during planning for your event that will make it more inclusive for those with disabilities and may proactively meet some needs so attendees don’t have to ask for an accommodation.  Consider these ideas:

  • Set aside a quiet room or space during the event for attendees to use to get away from the hustle and bustle of the event. This space could be used as a place for quiet reflection or desensitization from overwhelming auditory and/or visual stimuli.  Furnishing the space with comfortable seating and low lights away from the higher traffic areas of the event will allow attendees who need that break to take advantage of the space.
  • Consider your communication access. In large meeting rooms, it is often difficult to hear speakers even when properly amplified because of the acoustics of the room and background noises.  Providing real-time captions on video screens in the room may be a great way to facilitate communication access for all attendees, not just those who may have a hearing loss.
  • Another note on communication access – don’t rely on “teacher,” “parent,” or “coach” voices in large meeting spaces. There are so many times that speakers are uncomfortable using amplification and turn down the offer to use a microphone with the words, “it’s ok.  I can project and be loud enough.”  The reality is that speakers who are unamplified will never be loud enough to ensure that their voice is heard over the din of the room, especially in the far back corners of the room.  Always use a microphone whenever offered one.  And if you intend to have a question-and-answer period during your event, ensure that there are microphones available for your audience to use as well.  This also allows attendees who have hearing aids to benefit from any hearing loop technology in use at your meeting venue which may send the amplified sound directly to the hearing aid to allow it to be heard over the sound of the background noise as well.
  • Plan for accessible paths of travel. Some attendees may use mobility devices that are wider or longer than a traditional wheelchair, such as motorized scooters.  These often require larger areas for turns or navigating through poster sessions or exhibit halls.  Some associations have also provided scooters for attendees to use during the event, especially if the meeting rooms in use are spread farther apart and the event is expected to last for several days.
  • Provide conference materials in multiple formats. Many individuals with disabilities use assistive technology to make print accessible to them.  This means they may not be able to access the information on printed agendas or meeting directories.  Providing a download link or a flash drive with all event materials is a great way to increase access for attendees and is also environmentally friendly.

Taking these steps will let your attendees with disabilities know that you thought of them and want them to attend, which is a great message to convey.

Posted by Annelise Patterson