Making your events more accessible is not that hard
I often hear that making an event more accessible, or even providing information about accessibility, is “too hard” for event organisers. I contest that.
I make basic efforts toward accessibility for almost every event I run, mostly in the form of documentation, and it’s not that time-consuming or difficult. I estimate I spend about 20 minutes on it for a small event at a new venue, and less than five minutes if we’re running a second or subsequent event at the same place. It’s hardly anything in the overall scheme of things.
Handy accessibility documentation checklist
- Make a section on the event page titled “Accessibility”, and under that heading, note the physical access to the venue, including:
- What floor is it on?
- Is there an elevator to higher floors, or do you have to use stairs? Does the elevator require a key?
- Do you need to go up or down steps anywhere between the entrance and the space where the action is taking place (eg. one step at the front door)?
- Is there a separate accessible entrance? Where is it?
- Is there rough ground to cover (eg. steep pathways, gravel)
- Are there buttons to automatically open doors into the venue?
- Is there a wheelchair-accessible toilet?
- Also under “Accessibility”, make some notes about the style of the event and the content that will be delivered, with attention to how accessible it would be to deaf or vision-impaired attendees, eg.
- Will there be a speaker? Will the speaker’s words be transcribed/available in written form, such as handouts or slides?
- Will materials be made available online, or minutes or proceedings posted, after the event?
- Will any video or audio materials be transcribed or interpreted?
- Also under “Accessibility”, mention any dietary needs, common allergies, or other health considerations:
- If food is provided, what dietary requirements will be met automatically (eg. vegetarian, gluten free, and nut free)? If an attendee has other dietary requirements, who should they contact and by what date?
- Especially if the event is a private home, are there any pets that people might have allergies to?
- Are there any other materials that may cause allergic reactions or other health problems? Any environmental factors that may have health implications? Eg. fumes, noise, extreme heat, flashing strobe lights.
- Provide an email/phone contact for any accessibility related enquiries not already covered by the above.
- Under “Transportation”, note ways of getting to the venue, including:
- Car parking – distance from venue, costs
- Bicycle parking – indoor/outdoor, secure?
- Public transportation – nearest routes/stops, time of first/last service
- Ride sharing – especially for areas with poor public transport coverage, are there arrangements for people to share rides? Where should someone ask to find a ride, or offer a ride? (eg. Facebook group)
- Under “Children”, note the following:
- Is the event suitable for children? (Eg. mention if it will be unsafe)
- Is there childcare provided?
- Are there facilities for baby changing, feeding, etc?
Here’s a sample for an event I went to recently:
Physical accessibility: The workshop will be held on a rural property. Part of the workshop will be held up a steep and narrow flight of stairs. The rest of the workshop will be held around the property, with rough ground and unfinished paths between different areas. Access to the toilet is via a rough path and a few stairs. We will also be visiting three other sites, which may also have rough terrain or stairs. This event is not suitable for people with wheelchairs/scooters and may not be suitable for others with mobility impairments.
Workshop content: The morning speaker will provide written/illustrated notes covering most of the workshop material. No other transcription/interpretation is planned.
Allergies: Due to the nature of the workshop and the ourdoor venue, people with seasonal or animal allergies may wish to medicate accordingly.
If you have other accessibility needs or inquiries, feel free to email (email address).
There is ample car and bike parking onsite.
There is no public transport to the venue.
Ride shares can be arranged via our Facebook group (link); please post there if you are able to offer a ride, or are looking for one.
For safety reasons, this event is not suitable for young children; older children/teens may attend under the supervision of an adult. No childcare will be provided.
Babies may be changed in the bathroom at the main venue. Heating/refrigeration for baby food are available in the kitchen. No baby changing/feeding facilities will be available at the other sites we visit.
I timed it; that took me 25 minutes to research and write, and I was eating dinner and watching TV at the same time.
For future events at the same venue, simply copy-paste and make changes as necessary. It should take less than 5 minutes.
You may think that this hardly counts as “making your event accessible”, since so much of it is simply stating the lack of accessiblity, but even that much information is such a huge step above what most events provide that people will thank you for it.
Besides, awareness is most of the battle. Once you get in the habit of thinking about these things for every event, you’ll start to notice if you’re excluding people from attending. You might not have intended to exclude them, and done it without thinking; that’s pretty common, and most of us start out there. Now you’ll be more conscious of it, and you can begin to think about what further steps you could take.
At the very least, you’ll have saved a potential attendee from having to email a stranger (or worse, post on a public forum), disclosing a bunch of personal information just to find out whether they can attend or not.
Here are some examples of other events that provide accessiblity information:
- AdaCamp Bangalore — this is an event I’m organising remotely, at a venue I’ve never seen, in another country. I still managed to provide this information without too much difficulty, by sending a list of questions to someone local and having them walk through the space.
- Wiscon is a science fiction convention held in the same hotel year after year. They have managed to build up an amazing set of accessibility resources on their website over the years.
And a few quick “don’ts”:
- Don’t make people email you with any/all accessibility requests; it puts the onus on them, rather than you, and can invade their privacy. Take the effort to answer the most likely questions ahead of time.
- Don’t hide the venue’s location from attendees unless absolutely needed for privacy reasons. At the very least, give the general location to within a kilometre or two, and let attendees know as promptly as possible after they register. Knowing where an event is to be held is an important piece of information to help people make decisions.
- Don’t use offensive language around disabilities. Avoid “handicapped”, “crippled”, “sufferer/suffering”, “victim”, “wheelchair-bound”. Usually-safe terms include: “people with disabilities”, “mobility/visual/hearing impairment”, “wheelchair/scooter user”, “mobility aid”.
- Don’t get defensive when people ask you to make your event more accessible. Listen, take their suggestions onboard, and honestly weigh the costs (in time, effort, or money) against the benefits (wider reach, greater diversity, and simply doing the right thing). Consider whether you make a partial effort to solve some of the accessibility problems, for a lower cost. If the tradeoff simply can’t work given the resources you have, apologise in a straightforward way, and say you’ll keep it in mind for the future (ideally at a specified date).
- Don’t put the onus on people who require accommodations to educate you, to advocate for accessibility, or to do all the work toward it. They have enough on their plate as it is, and they don’t want to have to put in so much more effort than other attendees, just to be able to take part in an event. Make it easy for them to attend, and then once you’ve got them engaged and excited, perhaps they will choose to volunteer as an organiser.
This is still a learning process for me, as it is for most people. I know I’ve done a crap job of this in the past, but I hope I’ll do a better job in future. If you have any suggestions about how I can improve the way I approach event accessibilty, please feel free to contact me.