Accessibility is most effective when proactive measures are taken to meet a wide variety of individual needs. This is true in every case, but it’s especially important to be prepared when planning events. There are many types of events, both online and in-person, that may require accommodations. These include lectures, meetings, town halls, networking events, job fairs, and webinars.
When planning accessible events, many principles and practices will apply to both in-person and online events. Some however, will be specific to one type of event and not to others.
As you consider the venue for any event, some factors are more important than others. Not every person at your event will be able to see, hear, speak, move, or understand as readily as others. Providing basic accommodations often means making adjustments to your event with this in mind. It’s your responsibility to remove obstacles that might make it difficult for everyone to fully participate. Other common accommodations may involve service animals and dietary restrictions.
Remember that people are not required to show proof of disability. However, you are legally required to make your event accessible.
The most efficient and effective method for planning accessible events is to simply ask the participants to submit accommodation requests ahead of time. You could collect their requests via an accessible form or an email message. Where applicable, this information could simply be gathered as part of the registration process.
Feel free to use the following example to ask for accommodation requests:
"We encourage individuals with disabilities to attend our event. If you require a reasonable accommodation in order to participate, please contact [name of person, department, etc.] by [date] at telephone number, email, etc.]."
To save time and reduce the number of requests you receive, be sure to explain which accommodations you already plan to provide. Accommodations should be available to all event participants, whether a disability was disclosed or not, to avoid making those with disabilities feel out of place. If an accommodation that you can’t provide is requested, contact the individual and provide alternative options.
Involve guest speakers in making meetings, presentations, and Q&A sessions accessible. You may consider providing them with an accessible PowerPoint presentation template they can use. Ask them to submit their materials in advance, so that you can distribute them to participants who requested them. It’s important that these materials are distributed ahead of time to allow the participants to review them. It’s a good idea to have extra copies available for those who need them, but may not have submitted a request.
Ask presenters to consider verbally describing any visuals they employ. Where applicable, they should use large text and proper colors and contrast on visual components of their presentation so that it can be read easily from a distance.
Provide a microphone and use a speaker system. Ask presenters to always use the microphone when they’re speaking, even if they believe they can speak loudly enough for everyone to hear.
According to the World Wide Web Consortium, certain basic accommodations should be provided where possible. These are meant to address the most common barriers of participation in your event. The number of specific accommodations needed for your event can be found on the ADA National Network website.
- Consider the space needed for wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, and canes.
- Entrances, restrooms, seating, and parking should all be accessible.
- Ensure all spaces are well-lit.
- Use large print handouts, presentations, signs, etc. with proper contrast between text and the background (preferably dark text on off-white backgrounds).
- Some people may request a reader, audio recordings, or copies of the materials in braille.
- Captioning services
- American Sign Language interpreters
- Assistive listening devices
- Printed transcripts
- Provide plenty of information well in advance, such as detailed schedules, maps, dress codes, etc.
- If possible, allow registration cancellations, including refunds of fees.
- Warn participants of loud noises, bright and/or strobing lights, and high traffic areas or crowds.
- Plan for frequent, consistent breaks.
Service Animal Access
(The ADA limits these to dogs or miniature horses)
- Toileting and watering areas
- The animal is not required to wear a tag, vest, or any other type of identification.
- It is acceptable to ask if the animal is required due to disability, and to ask what task the animal is trained to perform.
- Clearly label foods with any allergens they might contain
- Avoid common allergens
Many of the accommodations listed above are unnecessary if your event is not being held in person. You should still inform participants ahead of time about which virtual format(s) will be used. Most virtual meeting platforms have built-in features that are meant to meet the specific needs of meeting participants. Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, and most other virtual meeting platforms have designated pages to help you become familiar with the accommodations they offer.