Inclusivity and Accessibility at In-Person Events
A new year brings with it New Year Resolutions. For many that means a lifestyle change, be it Veganuary, Dry January or a more long-term change. As event organisers we must remain on the pulse of the needs and wants of our audience. You can write inclusivity statements and signal as much as you like that you are inclusive and in tune with your customers’ and employees’ needs but it is only through action that you can put cement behind these words.
A Changed World
For years we have dealt with a mental health crisis – the Covid-19 pandemic hit an already struggling population. In 2022 the WHO (World Health Organisation) reported that “global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%” following the pandemic. The return to in-person events is proving harder for some. Ensuring that there is a space, a “Zen Zone” if you will, where people can take a break from the hustle and bustle of large events is something you can offer, or you may want to consider give aways that help to ease people’s anxiety or stress.
These simple steps to recognise people’s mental health is so beneficial to delegates. This will be both a valuable and memorable takeaway from your event.
The Registration Process
Delegates can’t enjoy your event if they cannot register to attend. There are several things you can do to make your webpage accessible:
- Start by choosing a content management system (CMS) that supports accessibility functions
- Optimise your registration webpage to allow speech synthesis (text-to-speech, or tts)
- If you have an integrated web form, trial how your form will work for people who use screen readers or a keyboard to scroll
- You can read more about improving your webforms on WebAim’s guide for ensuring form accessibility
- Enhance the page by creating a hierarchical structure – making use of headings
- Add meta descriptions to any images on your webpage to allow the full experience to everyone using the website
- Make use of a browser extension such as Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) to improve the user experience.
The venue is key to the success of any event. Whilst the onus is on the venue itself to ensure it is accessible to all delegates, it is up to the organising team to ask the correct questions during venue finds and site visits. Don’t forget that this applies to all venues! You don’t want a delegate to be unable to attend the gala dinner due to inaccessibility.
- Ensure that there are toilets on each level and that they are accessible
- Check the accessibility options to move between floors
- Stage accessibility; is there a ramp?
- Are there private spaces for praying or breastfeeding
Accessibility to the venue also encapsulates transport options. Delegates can’t enjoy your event if they cannot get to the event. During COP26 Karine Elharrar, Israel’s minister for energy and water resources was unable to attend the first day of the summit. The organisers had not prepared a wheelchair-friendly car and would not allow Elharrar entry to the event village in her car; the issue was corrected the next day following the British PM’s apology.
Consider where your chosen venue is and how it can be reached, confirm this information in your joining instructions. The best venues will offer public transportation and be connected to a vast network of travel options. Be sure to do your research and find out if the public transport is accessible for all: If there are limited car spaces be sure to include this information, you could even suggest that parking spaces are booked in advanced.
Management of stage accessibility is vital to enhancing both your speakers’ and your delegates’ experience. If your speaker is uncomfortable on stage then your delegate experience is impacted:
- Ensure speakers have rehearsed prior to their talk, allowing the opportunity to troubleshoot any issues
- Strobe lighting, optical illusions, flash photography and flashing imagery – all these can affect a number of people with various photosensitivity conditions. It is advised that you stay away from using flashing or strobing animations. If you are including material that already has strobing or flashing, such as a showing of a film, remove the strobing from the original material or skip that section. If you need to include something that has flashing or strobing, then you must ensure you put a very clear warning in place before showing the material.
- Hearing loops
- Hearing Link Services describes a hearing loop “a special type of sound system for use by people with hearing aids. The hearing loop provides a magnetic, wireless signal that is picked up by the hearing aid when it is set to ‘T’ (Telecoil) setting.”
- Interpreters and translators – collect information in advance to see if you require one or the other at the event.
- Any special FX such as fog, lasers, loud music or confetti canons – you must give the audience forewarning that these will be used.
Food can make or break an event. This is a simple fact of life, food uses four of your five senses, making it easier to form a memory. Personally, I can still remember the catering in minute detail at events I attended years ago, but I won’t be able to tell you what the plenary was about. As humans we tend to remember bad experiences more easily than we remember good ones.
Prior to your event you must collect all dietary requirements, this will allow you to have high quality options (and enough food) for every delegate. All your delegates deserve the same quality food, and all delegates need to eat.
According to a recent report from YouGov, nearly one-third of Britons (32%) say they don’t drink alcohol. “Excluding the teetotallers, 15% of people who say they do drink are planning on giving it up for January” – YouGov
There are a number of reasons why a person may choose not to drink, from health to faith to personal preference. It’s clear from the report that the number of Brits abstaining is not insignificant and shouldn’t be ignored when planning an event which includes food and drink. For your non-alcohol drinking audience to feel ‘included’ and thought about, when selecting your menu, it’s not as simple as just offering a soft drink, although this will tick the box to some extent. If you are offering cocktails at a drinks’ reception for instance, you should provide a mocktail for those abstaining. The non-alcoholic beverages provided should be as exciting as their alcoholic counterparts. But, abstaining from alcohol isn’t just about the consumption of a beverage, it should extend to food. It’s just as key to offer food that is alcohol-free. Quite often dishes may contain ‘a splash of wine’ and while it may evaporate during the cooking process, for some people abstaining from alcohol (particularly for religious reasons), this poses a problem.
To ensure that you are best prepped for the needs of your delegates it is important to collect as much information prior to the event and disclose in advance anything that may be of concern, for example strobe lighting during the plenary.
Outsourced Events prides itself on it’s inclusivity, you can read about our company’s commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in our policy and find out more about what this means in practice in our article What Diversity and Inclusivity looks like at Outsourced Events.
Other great resources to read when creating an inclusive and accessible event:
- Our Associations Director’s article Ensuring Accessibility and Inclusivity on Virtual Events
- Celebrating Disability’s article on Creating An Accessible Event
- Chartered Institute of Marketer’s resource on Why marketers should be making their content digitally accessible