When you are organizing face-to-face meetings and events, planning ahead can help ensure everyone feels welcome, understands what is presented, and participates in discussions and activities.
The ADA National Network makes a market case for ensuring meetings and events are accessible to individuals with disabilities. In 2010:
- Individuals with disabilities control more than $200 billion in discretionary spending.
- 57.6 million Americans reported having a disability.
- Both figures are under-reported because many American do not identify their needs.
In the age of social media, where more and more people share their experiences (the good and the not so good) in real time, businesses and planners who can ride the wave of positive, customer-centric approaches will reap economic benefits.
Accessible Meetings, Events, & Conferences Guide from the ADA National Network
The network recommends that individuals and teams develop "soft skills" as well as the structural, technological, and physical elements needed for accessibility.
Dos and Don'ts
The steps below are adapted from the Creating Accessible and Inclusive Meetings and Events PDF created by the Disability Resource Center.
Assemble an Inclusive Team
When possible, include people with disabilities in all stages of event planning.
- Designate a person who will coordinate accommodations.
- Identify who will create and distribute accessible materials.
- Identify who will assist presenters and participants at the event.
Consider Scheduling Impacts
Consider how the date, time, and place of your event will impact potential participants:
- Duration of event
- Number and duration of breaks
- Availability of transportation
- Religious observances
Conduct an Early Site Visit
When choosing an event venue, check that the space is large enough and determine what may require additional planning related to:
- Wheelchair accessible seating and paths throughout the space
- Seating and table options (e.g. a variety of table heights, styles, and sizes)
- Entrances and elevators
- Restrooms (accessible, all-gender, and transfer table availability)
- A refrigerator and microwave for those bringing food
- Sufficient accessible parking and transportation
- Audio technology (microphones, listening devices)
- Temperature control and lighting considerations
- Quiet spaces
Confirm emergency protocols and request changes needed for disabled people (e.g., elevator use during a fire).
Identify other events at the same venue that day and plan to reduce access barriers (e.g., managing noise level).
Avoid decorations in pathways, flash/strobe effects, latex balloons, and fog machines.
Provide Food Options
- Plan ahead to provide gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and halal options.
- Clearly label all food and keep specialized options separate.
- If meals are provided, offer full course options for specialized requests.
Assemble an Event Kit
The access coordinator should assemble an event kit with the following items and bring it to the event:
- First aid kit with latex-free supplies & earplugs
- Paper, pens, unscented markers, scissors, tape, duct tape, blank name tags, and clipboards
- Unscented bathroom and cleaning products
- Bike tire pump and patch kit for wheelchair tires
- Juice or regular soda & straws
- Clean rug or mat
- Umbrellas and ponchos
- Water bowl and dog waste bags for service dogs
- Garbage bags
Consider Accessibility When Recruiting Participants
Contact your local Disability Resource Center to learn about available accommodations services so you can collect accommodations requests with enough advance notice.
Include accessibility information in your invitation or registration form:
- Include this statement: "To make disability-related accommodations or dietary requests contact [insert event coordinator name and email address]."
- Indicate what access will be provided (e.g., interpreting, captioning, listening devices, audio description).
- Ask and remind participants to use scent-free products.
If you intend to collect participant names that will be shared (e.g., on a nametag, name tent, or online) make sure your registration form requests preferred names.
Create and Distribute Accessible Materials
Make sure materials are created accessibly. Refer to:
Check materials especially to ensure:
- Slide elements are read by a screen reader in the correct order
- Alternative text is included on all images
- Color choices have enough contrast
- Flash or strobe effects are not used
The access coordinator should distribute the materials digitally in advance to all attendees, including an agenda that indicates the amount of walking/physical activity required.
- Provide copies in Braille (as requested), large print and digitally, on the event day.
- Check and update all presenters’ materials for accessibility.
- Print preferred names on name tags in a large, dark font.
Provide Additional Information for Longer Events
For all-day or multi-day events and conferences, verify and provide, in advance, location, hours of operation, and contact information of:
- Accessible lodgings
- Accessible restaurants
- Nearest and 24-hour pharmacies
- Urgent care locations, emergency rooms, and crisis hotlines
- Grocery stores
- Accessible transportation
- Veterinary and emergency veterinary offices and pet stores
Deliver a More Accessible Presentation
Use these tips to create a more inclusive experience while you deliver your presentation.
- Speak slowly and clearly so people comprehend your message. If you use automated captioning, such as the function available in Google Slides, speaking slowly and clearly with help make your captions more accurate.
- Always use a microphone.
- Describe images and explain slide content. You included the images for a reason, provide that context for people in your audience who are blind, have low vision, or for other reason can't view your images.
Facilitate Accessibility During and After the Event
Include accessibility information in announcements:
- Introduce the Event Access Coordinator.
- Give clear directions to accessible & all-gender bathrooms—indicate transfer table availability.
- Ask all participants to say their names before speaking.
- Invite participants to take breaks for self-care.
- Share emergency protocols.
- Explain Event Kit and identify quiet spaces.
- Invite people with dietary requests to get their food first.
Prepare the venue and event staff:
- Post directional signs and station greeters at all entry points, elevators, stairs.
- Use an inclusive check-in process (consider table height, amount of noise, number of staff, flow of check-in process).
- Avoid background music.
- Brief all staff about accessibility plans.
- Set up clear and spacious paths outside and inside.
- Ask photographers to not use flash and to seek permission before photographing people.
Send event follow-up information:
- Distribute promised materials and/or post online in an accessible format.
- Send accessible thank you notes and evaluations and ask for feedback regarding accessibility and inclusion.