Purple Hound | How to run accessible events
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How to run accessible events

conference room

15 Feb How to run accessible events

Event planners are used to taking account of every last detail when organising events, but in the rush to create the ‘perfect’ event, it is easy to let accessibility considerations get put on the back burner. People with disabilities are all too often over looked when it comes to events, and while by no means exhaustive, this list should help to provide a useful start-point for event organisers who are trying to ensure that everyone can take part in their event.

  1. Pre-planning

The first stage of creating a truly accessible event comes at the planning. By factoring accessibility in from the beginning, event planners will save themselves a lot of time and money further down the line, and avoid the need for difficult alterations. Choosing a venue that already has good accessibility features is therefore essential. It is advisable to check any potential venues in person, as not all venues are accessible as they claim to be.

If possible, involving a person with disabilities from the earliest stage of planning is advisory. This will help ensure that access is always an important priority, and may pick up on smaller details which would have otherwise been missed.

  1. Inviting your guests

Once a good, accessible venue is chosen, inviting guests is the next stage. Where guests with disabilities are being invited, it is worth sending individualised invitations rather than simply sending them generic invitations. Consider invitations which use braille or larger text for visually impaired users.

Organisers should also include an accessibility statement on all invitations, inviting guests to inform them of any special requirements prior to the event. By doing this, organisers can ensure they have ample time to make any modifications required.

At this stage of the event planning, it is also worth advance booking interpreters and other sign-language professionals, as they are always in high demand.

  1. Prior to the event

Between inviting guests, and the event itself, there are a number of important considerations to make accessibility-wise. One of the more time consuming aspects of ensuring accessibility can be staff training. It is therefore necessary to get any relevant training organised as soon as possible, so that by the time of the event, staff are comfortable about how to help people with disabilities.

If the event being planned is a conference or presentation, it may be worth considering distributing information before, giving guests who may need longer to read or process information the time to do this. It is also worth ensuring that any written materials to be given out at the event are produced in other formats, such as braille, large print or audio versions if this will be helpful to any guests invited – this information should have been indicated on the return of invitations.

It is also good practice to decide prior who will be responsible for any issues that arise on the day. Having someone clearly in charge will help to make decisions quickly and easily, and minimise the consequences of any errors.

  1. Preparing the venue

There are numerous checks, and potentially modifications, which will need to be made at the venue. Starting at the start, it is important to ensure level access to the building. Hopefully, a venue will have been chosen that does not necessitate, for example, the use of steps. However, if this is the case, it is important to ensure a ramp is set up. It is highly preferable that all guests enter through the main entrance, regardless of any impairments.

Once guests are inside, it is vital that the building is easy to move around. Any obstacles which prevent ease of movement around the building – such as tables – should be moved prior to the event. It is also important to ensure that all doors and conference spaces are wide enough to fit a wheelchair.

There should be clear signage around the venue, to allow any guests unfamiliar with the location to move around easily. Signage should be in a large text, with a sans-serif font, to ensure all guests can read and understand it.

Does the venue have an induction loop fitted? If not, you can hire a portable one. This is essential for any of your guests who have hearing difficulties.

Finally, it’s important to ensure that people with disabilities can access the stage. If the stage is up a flight of stairs, this can prove difficult. In this case, ensure that there is a route backstage which allows for easy access.

  1. The day itself

Adopting a joined up approach is one of the most important elements to ensuring a smooth, accessible event. There is little use in creating a perfectly accessible venue, if it is impossible for people with disabilities to get from the carpark to the conference centre, for example. Toilets and carparks must be situated close to the venue, and drop-off points and kerb ramps should ideally be set up at the front of the venue to allow people to enter and exit easily.

Toilets are often an area of particular concern and organisers must take steps to ensure that there are enough accessible toilets for the size of the audience. Although it is conventional in other circumstances to lock the disabled facilities, it can save visitors with disabilities a lot of time and effort to leave them open at events like conferences. Finally, it is essential that the red emergency cord in the bathroom is left to dangle, and not tied up, as this makes it impossible for many people with disabilities to reach.

If the event will take in multiple rooms or events, it is important to ensure people with disabilities have enough time to move between venues. Another consideration to make is height. The reception desk must be at a height where it is practical for wheelchair users, and the same applies to any catering arrangements. Self-service food can provide particularly difficult, and someone should be on hand to provide assistance.

Finally, it is preferable to hold your event on the ground floor of the building if possible. This is because exit routes, such as lifts, cannot be used in certain emergencies, making it difficult for some people with disabilities to escape. Therefore, for peace of mind, many people with disabilities feel more comfortable on the ground floor.

We hope this guide provides helpful advice to any event organisers. However, if event planners require further details, the following documents may prove useful.

Leeds University Accessible Events Guide

Meetings & Events Australia Guide

Cornell University Accessible Events Guide



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