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9 Ways to Prioritize Accessibility at Your Next Event

Posted Jul 05, 2024 02:15 PM
Planning a successful event can be challenging. Your nonprofit has many balls to juggle and to-do lists to complete for everything to run smoothly. However, one detail that you should not overlook is accessibility.

Events that prioritize accessibility open the door to a broader audience and enhance attendee satisfaction, helping you strengthen connections with those in your nonprofit’s community. Let's explore why accessibility is so important and ways you can incorporate it into your event planning.

What is accessibility and why it matters for events

According to Cornell University, “Taking care to create an accessible event benefits not only individuals with visible or known disabilities, but also helps ensure that all participants/attendees, including individuals with non-obvious disabilities and/or chronic health conditions, and people of all ages and body types, are able to fully engage in the program.”

Important accessibility considerations include event website accessibility and sensory adaptations for people who are visually or hearing impaired.

Be proactive and create an environment where everyone can fully engage and participate from the start. To do so, follow these key tips:

9 accessibility tips for event planning

1. Choose an accessible venue

While your nonprofit’s venue options will vary depending on the type of event you’re planning, the ideal venue should feature updated accommodations like:

  • Ample lighting
  • Convenient ramps
  • Elevators
  • Wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters
  • Nearby reserved parking spaces
  • Accessible seating options to allow for wheelchair maneuverability
  • ADA restrooms

Take the time to visit potential venues to evaluate these important aspects. And before the event, clearly post signs marking these specific areas for attendees.

2. Consider visual accessibility

Ensure your venue is brightly lit inside and outside, especially if your event begins early in the morning or ends late at night. Consider additional lighting in these areas:

  • Stairways and entryways
  • Outdoor walkways
  • Indoor hallways

Produce larger print versions of agendas and handouts, using high-contrast colors and sans serif fonts for easier readability. Go the extra mile and offer audio descriptions for presentations and videos.

3. Incorporate hearing accessibility measures

To create fulfilling and memorable event experiences for all attendees, provide real-time captions and transcription services during speeches and presentations. Equip all speakers with high-quality microphones and minimize background noise when they’re talking.

Furthermore, consider hiring a sign language interpreter for keynote speeches and special programs. Train a few staff members or volunteers to assist with troubleshooting any issues attendees may have with assistive listening devices.

4. Provide quiet spaces and sensory-friendly areas

Large groups of people, tight schedules, loud noises, and overstimulation can create stress among people with ADHD, autism, or dyslexia.

Creating quiet spaces, rest areas, or other sensory-friendly spaces will help them relax, unwind, and feel more comfortable during your nonprofit’s event. Train a compassionate and friendly team member to act as an Accessibility Ambassador who can provide personalized guidance and support if needed.

5. Offer dietary options for those with sensitivities and allergies

Some attendees might have dietary restrictions including:

  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Nut allergies
  • Lactose intolerance

Additionally, many people may have a vegetarian or vegan diet. When planning food and drink for your event, make sure you have substitutions for various dietary needs and clearly mark every dish so attendees can make informed choices.

Ask about dietary preferences, restrictions, and needs in your event registration forms. This ensures that you know how to accommodate everyone in advance so that all attendees can enjoy their meals comfortably.

6. Add a virtual attendance option for convenience

Depending on your event type and content, consider offering a virtual option to include people who might not be able to attend in person. You may already be familiar with Zoom and Google Meet, but there are also many other virtual meeting platforms designed for larger events.

When attendees register, they’ll receive a personal link and password to attend your event on their laptop or tablet. They can participate and engage in discussions, chat sessions, and polls just like they are there in person. You can even record each presentation and breakout session for future viewing and follow-up.

7. Emphasize accessibility in your marketing materials

Promoting the accessible features of your event can significantly impact attendance. Create a dedicated accessibility section in your event marketing and promotional materials—both print and digital. Simply stating that your venue is wheelchair friendly, or sharing all of the dietary options you’ll have available, will make your supporters feel more comfortable and confident about attending.

Then, include a clear way for attendees to share any additional accommodations they might need at your event.

8. Assemble an event accessibility committee

Whether you’re expecting 100 or 1,000 attendees, create an event accessibility committee to conduct thorough accessibility audits of proposed venues and perform assessments throughout the planning process.

Once you’ve selected a venue, have them evaluate your agenda, schedule, presentations, free time, and meals for accessibility. Additionally, present them with drafts of your marketing and promotional materials to ensure they meet basic accessibility standards.

9. Train your team on accessibility and empathy

Educate your event team on how important accessibility best practices are for your nonprofit’s supporter relationships and reputation as a whole. Provide awareness and sensitivity training to better support attendees with varying needs at your event.

Conduct roleplay sessions to prepare your staff and volunteers for common situations they may encounter during the event. This training will ensure everyone on your team is prepared to assist your event attendees in an empathetic and confident way—creating a welcoming atmosphere from start to finish.