How to Make Your Event Accessible & Inclusive to All
Accessibility matters. Today, it’s more important than ever for organisers to remove barriers that may be preventing people from all backgrounds from attending an event or conference. If you want to make your next event accessible and inclusive to all, then keep reading and the ACC Liverpool team will tell you everything you need to know…
Before your event or conference
As there’s so many things to consider when it comes to making your event or conference more accessible and inclusive, we’ve divided our tips and advice based on whether they should be carried out before, during or after your event.
Let’s start by looking at what you should do during your pre-event planning.
Check the date of your event against major religious festivals
Before you select the date of your event or conference you should check interfaith calendars for key religious holidays. This will ensure that your event is inclusive and give as many people as possible the chance to attend.
Ensure that your event or conference’s registration is accessible
Before you can think about the accessibility of your conference or event’s venue, you first need to ensure that everyone is actually able to register for your event!
Whether attendees are registering via electronic means (i.e. an online form), or via hard-copy registration forms, you need to ensure that anyone who has accessibility requirements is able to complete them.
For example, some online forms are not accessible for people who use screen readers.
To solve this, consider offering a phone number which people can use as an alternative means of registering for your event or conference.
Tip - use the registration process - be it online or over the phone - as an opportunity to ask attendees about their accessibility requirements. With this information you’ll be better informed to select the right venue.
Choose an accessible venue
This may seem like a rather obvious point, but you’d be surprised how easily this factor can be overlooked.
Make sure you select a venue that not only has ramp and elevator access into the building, but which also has ramp and elevator access within the entirety of the building too.
Attendees should have unimpeded access wherever they go inside the venue and shouldn’t need to ask for assistance to access any particular room, be it a toilet or a seminar hall.
It’s also important that the venue’s accessible entrances are the same entrances that everyone else will use. If not, then attendees with accessibility issues risk feeling ‘othered’ and excluded from the event.
Also, just because a venue says it is accessible, you should check just how accessible it is. For example, you should check the following things regarding accessible entrances:
- Is the route to the accessible entrance from the car park, bus stop, or train station accessible?
- If the entrance has a ramp, can it be used by wheelchair users independently?
- Are there handrails next to the ramp and/or stairs to the entrance?
- If the meeting room/event space is on an upper floor, are the lifts wide enough to accommodate a motorised wheelchair and/or a wheelchair user with a personal assistant?
Most venues - like ourselves here at ACC Liverpool - will have dedicated information pages on their websites detailing their building’s level of accessibility.
Is the venue prepared for emergencies?
You should also check that your chosen venue has specific plans in place for the emergency evacuation of people with accessibility issues in the event of a fire or other emergency.
According to the UK Government, the preferred method of escape by most wheelchair users is, ‘horizontally to another fire compartment, or to outside the building, or vertically by the use of an evacuation or fire-fighting lift’.
Choose a venue with accessible public transport links
Aside from selecting a venue which is easy to get into and around, you also need to make sure you select a venue which is easy to get to.
This includes intercity rail, road links and bus routes. Also consider those visitors who will be travelling to your event or conference by car - does the venue have accessible parking bays?
In addition to checking that your chosen venue can be reached in an accessible way via public transport, you should also help attendees by providing them with information as to what those most accessible routes actually are - they’ll thank you for it!
Tip - Google Maps now allows you to provide directions to attendees which include wheelchair accessible routes.
Choose a venue with accessible seating
Depending on an attendees’ disability, they may not be able to comfortably use the standard seating in a venue e.g. if they are a wheelchair user. Likewise, some attendees may require priority seating. In addition to checking that your chosen venue can accommodate wheelchair users and others who require more space or priority seating, it’s important that you check that the venue can do so with dignity. Attendees who have accessibility requirements don’t want to be shoved away in a corner or a space that’s very obviously ‘separate’ from the rest of the event’s attendees.
Likewise, you should also check that your chosen venue is able to accommodate service animals and provide them with welfare facilities.
Double check accessibility before your event or conference!
Even if you’ve really done your homework, it’s always worth double checking the accessibility of a venue a few days prior to your event or conference.
That’s in case building works or other works that may disrupt accessibility have been scheduled and not been communicated to you.
Whilst the very best venues will keep you updated on a regular basis, for the peace of mind of you and your attendees, it’s always worth doubling checking the current accessibility of your chosen venue.
Publishing event information
Once you’ve selected a suitable venue, it’s vital that you communicate as much information as possible to attendees - especially any information that is particularly pertinent to accessibility.
Remember, the more informed someone with accessibility issues is, the more comfortable they’ll feel attending your event.
The sort of information you should consider publishing about your event or conference includes:
- The full address of the venue, including the postcode.
- Information on accessible public transport connections.
- The location of accessible parking spaces and the route to the venue entrance.
- The location of accessible entrances.
- Information about accessible facilities including toilets.
- Information about service dogs e.g. where they’re accepted within the venue.
- The provision of hearing loops.
- Information on food and the types of food, especially information on allergies and special dietary requirements.
- Whether flash photography will be used.
- Whether any scents, smells, or fog machines are going to be used (these can make your event inaccessible to attendees with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) or idiopathic environmental intolerances (IEI)).
- Whether or not interpreting services will be provided.
Of course, it’s also important that you publish this information in an accessible way too!
Assign a dedicated point of contact
Even if you provide all of the information outlined above, it’s possible that individuals with accessibility requirements may still have questions that they need answering before your event or conference.
As such, it’s really good practice to provide a dedicated point of contact to deal with all accessibility queries.
With someone on hand to answer any questions regarding accessibility, you’ll go a long way to creating an event or conference that is truly accessible and inclusive.
Ideally, you should also have someone physically present at the event who can act as a point of contact for disabled attendees or speakers for the duration of your event or conference.
Ensure that catering is accessible
When it comes to providing food and drink at your event or conference, there are a number of things you can do to make the dining experience more enjoyable and convenient for people with accessibility issues.
Firstly, consider having servers assist wheelchair users (or other users with mobility issues), by serving them at their table. This will save the individual from having to queue and negotiate their way across the venue.
Secondly, think about the types of food that are served and the way in which they are presented. For example, some attendees may have limited dexterity in their fingers and may struggle to pick up fiddly finger food.
Where possible, ask people during the registration process if they have any preferences regarding food and the way it is presented and served.
Don’t forget about speakers/presenters
It’s not just attendees that can have accessibility requirements, but speakers and presenters too.
As such, it’s important that you ensure that:
- The stage or speaking area is accessible.
- The lectern (if you’re using one) is height adjustable.
- The microphones can be connected to a hearing loop.
Provide advice to speakers
It’s also important that your speakers take measures to ensure that their presentations/talks are accessible.
As such, you should encourage speakers at your event or conference to:
- Face the audience as much as possible (particularly if they’re going to be walking around the stage).
- Speak loudly, clearly and at a standard conversational pace.
- Avoid using acronyms, initialisms and jargon.
- To announce when they’re bringing their talk to a conclusion.
Ensure that printed materials are accessible
If you’re going to be providing handouts and other printed materials to attendees, you should ensure that these are accessible.
For example, you may wish to provide braille versions of your conference information packs to assist attendees with visual impairments.
Don’t forget about service dogs
It’s all too easy to forget about the needs of service dogs when you’re organising an event or conference.
Be sure to provide bowls of water and areas for exercise so that service dogs don’t get dehydrated or stressed whilst they are at your event.
During your event or conference
There are a number of things you should do during your event to ensure that it’s as accessible and inclusive as possible. You’ll find these things detailed below.
Ensure that audio and visuals are set at the right levels
If your event or conference is going to be making use of audio and visual based presentations, then it’s important that the sound levels are set at the correct level to accommodate people using hearing loops.
Excessive volume can be extremely painful for people using assistive hearing aids, so this is an especially important thing to get right.
It’s also important that you refrain from using strobe lights during any part of your event or conference. As is well established, strobe lighting can induce epileptic fits and migraines etc.
Think about the lighting
Whilst it’s traditionally been standard practice to lower the lighting when it comes to things like visual presentations, this can present problems for attendees who have visual impairments and who lip read.
If possible, you should try to dim the lighting as little as possible, leaving as much light as you can. Alternatively, keep a few of the room lights on when the others are dimmed.
Ensure that networking space is accessible
If your event or conference is going to involve networking or breakout sessions, then it’s important that these are held in rooms that are big enough to accommodate wheelchair users.
Attendees that use wheelchairs or that have mobility issues shouldn’t have to navigate their way around tight spaces or myriad tables and chairs.
Likewise, you should ensure that the room is set up to accommodate individuals that use assistive hearing aids; if it’s not, they’ll not be able to participate in any meaningful way.
Provide a quiet room
For some attendees, they may appreciate the use of a quiet room away from the hustle and bustle of your event or conference.
Some attendees may also need to take medications - so a quiet, private space to do so will be much appreciated. It’ll also provide a place to relax for those attendees who may have issues regarding sensory overload.
After your event or conference
Just because your event or conference is over doesn’t mean you can discharge your responsibilities regarding accessibility and inclusivity. Below are some of the things you should do post-event to help attendees with accessibility issues.
Ensure attendees are able to leave your venue safely
It’s important to ensure that attendees are able to leave your venue safely and don’t have to cross busy roads without assistance. Likewise, attendees who have sight or hearing issues may benefit from some assistance back to their cars or public transport.
Provide presentations and other information in an accessible format
If you’re going to be sending out presentations following your event or conference, consider doing so in a number of formats. That way, you’ll ensure the maximum number of attendees are able to use them.
For example, instead of just sending out a slide deck, why not have the presentation filmed? This can be shared via YouTube using their closed captioning system. This will allow attendees with hearing impairments to fully digest the presentation.
ACC Liverpool: an accessible venue in the heart of England’s North West
Easily accessible by land, air or sea, ACC Liverpool is only 20 minutes from the UK motorway network and closer still to trains and ferries.
We are committed to ensuring all our events across our campus are accessible to all and that all our delegates have a safe and enjoyable experience.
There is lift access to conference rooms and halls. The auditorium in the convention centre features 33 accessible seats, with accompanying bays for a personal assistant. There are accessible toilets on all floors.
Hearing induction loops are available, and assistance dogs are welcome.
There is accessible parking available at Kings Dock Car Park, close to the venue
We are compliant with the Equality Act 2010. Attitude is Everything - a charity that works with venues to ensure everyone has a fair and equal chance to attend events irrelevant of disability - has reviewed our policies.
So, if you’re looking for an accessible venue for your next event or conference, look no further than ACC Liverpool
Speak to the ACC Liverpool team about your next event or conference now
For more conference planning and organising advice and information, check out the ACC Liverpool News and Events Hub…