Accessible & Inclusive Events – Taking Cues from Colleges

By in Conference + Meeting Planning, Experience Design + Management, Featured, Insights, Thought Pieces

Higher education is on the front line of tackling issues of inclusivity at events. What can we learn from their progress?

Most colleges and universities are progressive entities, making grand statements pertaining to diversity and inclusion. Historically, these establishments have served as sanctuaries for expression and platforms for protest. College students and faculty are arguably the most socially aware and impassioned citizens, making them a good case study for how to successfully prioritize inclusivity at an event.

Let’s first address what should be considered before planning an event. To maximize inclusivity, planners must consider elements like race, ethnicity, language, country of origin, religion, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, ability, diet, class, and age. Accommodating for all of these differences seems challenging, right? Don’t worry – it’s very achievable.

It’s necessary to go beyond simply accommodating or acknowledging people’s differences. Instead, try thinking of this process as creating events that are universally designed—accessible to everyone. When there are barriers to participation, it can make attendees feel unwelcome and less likely to return or recommend the event to a friend or colleague. This is exactly what we want to avoid!

Establishments like Syracuse University, Skidmore College, and The University of Arizona have introduced proactive approaches to campus inclusivity and accessibility. They have created their own guides which explain the steps one must take to successfully host an inclusive campus event. Below are some of the most helpful tips (gleaned from the guides of the universities listed above) which are applicable for any event whether it be campus, corporate, ceremonial, or casual.

  • Accessible parking and drop-off areas?
  • Flat, level, or ramped entrance?
  • Accessible door or automatic door opener?
  • Provide multiple ways for attendees to communicate with you, the organizer (e.g. phone, email, social media, or text).
  • Provide audio files in addition to PDF and Microsoft Word files.
  • Some participants may prefer or need to access an event virtually via Skype or Livestream.
  • Are interpreters needed?
  • Is there space for an unobstructed view of the speaker and visuals for the hearing-impaired? 
  • Is there appropriate lighting? Dark enough to see video and bright enough to see a speaker?
  • If producing an art show, screening a movie, or other event that includes any highly visual components, you may wish to use audio description services.
  • Is everyone able to participate in the event activities (mobility sight or hearing concerns)? 
    • If not, provide modifiers or alternate activities.
  • Are restrooms accessible?
    • If none are in close proximity, provide a portable accessible option.
  • Are there dietary restrictions?
    • Consider individuals with an array of food preferences and needs including Kosher, Halal, vegan, and vegetarian.
  • Provide participants who will be attending multi-day events with lists of LGBTQ-friendly spaces, vegetarian restaurants, gluten-free options, etc., whenever possible.
  • Inform staff of all accessible features.
  • Encourage staff to use correct terminology like “wheel-chair user” and “disability-related access”.

After the event has commenced, find out how inclusive your event truly was through a survey. Did attendees feel welcome? Were they able to fully participate? Do they have feedback on how to make the event even more accessible next time? Take time to reflect on any accessibility-related issues and how to design differently in the future. This inclusive thinking will improve your events over time.