By Michaela Jeffery-Morrison, CEO and co-founder of Ascend Global Media
One of the most positive developments in our society in recent years is the rise in awareness of the importance of accessibility – of making information, activities and environments usable for as many people as possible. Side by side with this has been a growth in awareness of ‘invisible’ physical and mental health conditions, and of the need to consider those communities when considering accessibility.
Many of our conversations in this area centre on the workplace. But events are an important part of the accessibility conversation, because of the way they bring together groups of people that can number in the thousands. As an events organiser and the founder of the Women in Tech World Series, I have some experience in this area.
Make space in your budget
You have to start thinking about accessibility right at the start of your journey, while you’re costing your event. You need to make sure you’ve freed up enough space in your budget to ensure that your event can be accessible and inclusive. If you’ve run events before, then you’ll have an idea of what to put aside. This kind of information can be found online, however. Importantly, many of the most meaningful ways to improve accessibility require nothing except thought and effort.
Speak to your attendees
Communicate with the people coming to your event. It’s difficult to know exactly what needs you might have to cater for, and the easiest way to find that out is to ask. In your marketing communications, invite your guests to let you know if they have access or dietary requirements, and give them space to mention anything else they think might be relevant. This applies to speakers, too. We often have more than 250 speakers at any one of our events, and even if they’re incredibly experienced, it’s important not to assume they don’t have needs that you might have to accommodate.
Make information easy to find and understand
Once you have the information you need, you need to start making your accessibility information clear. You can do this at the event, in your communications, on your website and app, and anywhere else that people might go to learn more about the event. Publishing floor plan layouts can make a big difference to wheelchair and mobility scooter users. An FAQs section can be really useful too. Is there a lift? Are the bathrooms inclusive? It’s important that this information is easy to find, but also make sure that guests have a way of contacting you in case they can’t find the information they need. For example, we provide information across a range of communication channels – email, telephone, and social media.
Small changes, big difference
There are relatively small things you can do at any event that will make a world of difference in accessibility terms. Reserving seating or space for those who may need it, and having an adjustable lectern or microphone for example. We take into account room temperature, for those with arthritis, as well as different presentation formats at the event. We offer these in a variety of accessible formats, including different colour palettes, that help attendees with neurodiversity such as ADHD and dyslexia. We also install ramps and lifts, and have dedicated mothering and prayer rooms as well as inclusive bathrooms. All of this maximises accessibility.
Provide a range of support services and resources
Offer a range of support services and resources for our attendees. For instance, we include diversity and inclusion educational sessions; a ‘convince your boss’ campaign, which supports underrepresented communities in the workforce; complimentary visitor tickets, discounts to accommodate different budgets; and an online resource hub accessible to all free of charge to inform and drive forward a more inclusive workforce. Before, during and after the event, our team is on hand to provide feedback and support, and to ensure our events are as inclusive and accommodating as possible.
Set a direction of travel
It’s really important to recognise that for all of us working in and around DEI, we’re on a journey, and we’ll sometimes make mistakes. Events organisers have a lot to think about, and perfectionism can be counter-productive – especially for those new to designing and running events. The most important thing, in particular for those with less experience, is to set a direction of travel, to be willing to work hard, and to do your best to ensure that whatever you’re doing, it’s understandable, usable and comfortable for as many people as possible.