Everyone has needs to make an event accessible to them. This guide is intended to help you think through some ways to engage a spectrum of people with and without disabilities in hosting an event. Please note, no list of recommendations for accessibility comprehensively addresses the needs of all people with disabilities. Each prompt below should rather help you frame your event from its conception as an accessible one where access and event planning are synonymous start to finish. If you have any questions or require additional advice, please contact the Campus Access Specialist for support.
General guidance regarding access
Access for all community members takes time as well as commitment. By working proactively, event planners can better identify access barriers and make their events accessible to the widest range of students possible. Improving access is always a process in development and as such, new and better ways of making events accessible are as welcome as tried methods. That said, some best practices are important to keep in mind. Experiment when you can, and check to see if your plans provide adequate access early and often.
Unfortunately there is often a price tag that goes along with access. Individuals with disabilities should not be responsible for this cost, which leaves event planners liable for access costs. Fortunately, there are campus resources that can provide for certain accommodations if they are activated with enough advanced warning. Ask about what the campus can do to support your access requirements.
Remember, everyone has needs to make an environment accessible to them, and people will definitely know best what their specific needs are. Your promotional materials should state what access needs have been addressed (i.e. ASL interpretation, wheelchair access, etc) and state that people can write or call to request specific access needs, including the names and contact information of the best people to ask about access.
Access needs should be shared and talked about without shame. Make space for your group members, guests, and participating community members to clearly define their access needs at regular meetings as well as special events. Many people’s access needs are invisible. They should feel welcome to share those needs without fear of reprisal, so an intentional space for sharing is very important!
Try to hold compassion in the process. Sometimes, even with the best planning, some access needs go unmet. A little humility goes a long way in holding the frustration a person experiences when their needs are not met.
Nobody expects you to be an access expert from the beginning. Request an access consultation for planning purposes and designate a person or two be the “access coordinator(s)” on the day of the event if you anticipate the gathering to be more than 15 people. They can handle access planning before hand and address access related issues on the day, help troubleshoot, and in general be thinking about it and available to respond.
Access requirements for campus events
Wheelchair and other mobility-related access can be complicated for people unfamiliar with wheelchair accessibility. Important things to consider include: Is there a working elevator? Are there steps or a steep slope in the building so that access may be limited? For people for whom distance can be an issue, is Point A far from Point B? If there are doors to open and close to enter the site, are they heavy? If there is a bell or buzzer, who will or won’t be able to reach it? Are there enough chairs for people? Are there wide chairs? Please work with these things in mind from the beginning to assure that your event complies with campus access standards.
Accessible restrooms are crucial for making your event welcoming to people with all levels of ability. Please verify that a wheelchair accessible bathroom is available and operational before the event begins. Make signage or an announcement highlighting the accessible restroom.
Sign Language Interpretation/Real-time Captioning
It’s important to arrange for interpretation/captioning at events as early as possible, and to announce that interpretation and captioning are possible in your promotional materials. Requests for interpretation/captioning should be made using the web form on our request page only after you receive a specific request for services. The campus has funding for interpretation/captioning which will cover the cost as long as your event is sponsored by a campus unit/department and meets certain criteria which DSP staff can explain upon request. Provide preferential seating toward the front of the event for attendees who are utilizing sign language interpreting or real-time captioning services. Sign language interpreters should be situated in proximity to the event speaker and within the sight line of deaf attendee(s) so that both the interpreter and speaker can be viewed simultaneously.
Additional access best practices
Put a standard accessibility contact statement on all your publicity, including print ads, web pages, flyers, radio and TV spots. The statement should provide an event contact, as well as the Campus Access Specialist's phone numbers and web site. DAS can provide you with sample disability access statements.
Different forms of outreach
Some people respond best to talking, some people to reading, some to face to face interactions. How are you communicating about the gathering? People often use email and Facebook, but please try to incorporate a broad range of options whenever possible. Not only will this help increase the number of people you reach, it will increase the range of people who can access your promotional materials.
For written material, try to use Arial or other plain, sans serif fonts, at least 14 point font, black ink on white non-glossy paper.
Audio describers describe action on for folks who are visually impaired. Will this be helpful for participants in your event? Is a trained Audio Describer available for your event? If not, is someone who can see and describe without commentary available to do informal audio description? Also, if you are giving directions to the gathering site, can you think through how best to explain it to a person with a visual impairment?
If food is part of the gathering, it’s great to have multiple options – vegetarian, vegan, high protein (including meat), gluten-free, sugar free, etc. Post ingredients somewhere visible. If people have food allergies or dietary restrictions, invite them to let others know what they can eat. If possible, let people know in advance if there will/will not be food for the group so people can plan accordingly.
Scents and Chemicals
Scents and chemicals also create access barriers for some people. Please encourage participants to avoid scented products (commercial detergents, shampoo, soap, perfume) before the event if close contact will be a part of the event. Also, please make sure that a space free of air fresheners, scented soaps, and other scented products is available. For outreach materials, consider a phrase like "In order for our community members with chemical sensitivities to participate, please don't use fragranced products.” Given the way that scent moves, consider a fragranced area and a scent free area in your event.
Fluorescent lighting can trigger seizures and can make spaces less accessible for people with sensory issues and/or neurological diversity. Are other options (like lamps) available? Has there been discussion of flash photography?
Access to quiet space can often be helpful. If possible, try to have a space where people can go if they need to be alone/with less stimulation. Do you have the space and flexibility so that people can step back if they are getting overstimulated or tired?
How are people arriving? Can people rideshare? Is there public transportation that would dovetail with the time of the event?