When planning an event on-campus, it is important to begin with an accessible and inclusive mindset from the outset. Embed conversations about access and inclusivity in all aspects of your planning to avoid causing potential harm and barriers to participation. Having an accessible mindset from the beginning of your planning also means that you will be prepared to adapt and make changes as you encounter barriers and dismantle them. Your initial preconceived plans may not work for everyone so being flexible and open to changes will allow for a more successful planning endeavour.
This article will focus largely on the logistics of planning your event including location, space, and communication. To consider accessibility from the lens of presentations and guest speakers, be sure to check out the article on Ensuring Accessibility for Guest Speakers. For thinking about accessible presentations, both virtual and in-person, read: Accessible Meetings and Presentations (On-Site) and Accessible Virtual Meetings.
Registration and Pre-Event Communication
Make space for participants to tell you what they need in order to fully participate in your event. Individuals know best what works for them. Asking participants beforehand is an easy step to help you better plan and anticipate for accessible events. Embedded questions about accessibility in your registration process can allow you and your organizers to address requirements before the event. If your event has an online registration form, make sure you are following WCAG 2.0 guidelines to create an accessible form, for more information consider reading our article about Accessible Forms. Consider also alternative ways of registration — can participants register by phone if needed? Include the relevant contact information if participants need to access alternative forms of registration.
Your registration information and pre-event communication should clearly communicate your commitment to accessibility and what that means for your event. Do not leave participants guessing about what accessibility and accommodations will look like at your event. Will assistive listening devices be available? Will all videos shown have captioning? Are you striving to provide a low-stimulus environment? Let your participants known in advance.
Be sure to develop and share your process for meeting accessibility needs with your participants. Whom should they contact if they have questions or concerns? Designating an appropriate person on your planning team to handle accessibility inquiries will help you better prepare for any possible changes. Letting attendees know whom they should contact and who will be available on site to address any potential barriers is useful for both you and attendees. Removing uncertainty about who, what, and how concerns will be addressed will demonstrate your intentionality around accessibility.
Location and Space
When selecting the location and space on campus for your event, you will want to consider the venue from an accessible perspective. For location, make sure the space you are selecting is near accessible parking, entrances, and elevators. Participants will encounter barriers if they have to travel a long way from a building entrance to the event space(s) and/or if accessible features in the building are not on a direct route to the space. Also, be sure to pick a space on campus near accessible washrooms and gender-neutral washrooms. Make sure you let your participants know in advance where washrooms are in relation to your space on campus. You will also want to include directions and specifics about your location on campus within your advertising for the event and communication to participants. Consider what possible routes participants will take on the day of your event. Do you have visible signs and directions for the location of your event around campus?
In terms of the actual space or meeting room you select, you will want to consider the following questions:
- Is the room spacious enough to comfortably fit all of your participants?
- Does it have adequate open space for anyone who may be using mobility aids, devices, and/or service animals?
- Is the furniture easily moveable? Does the seating meet accessibility standards?
- Does the room have built-in speakers and is there access to portable microphones for speakers?
- Does the space have good acoustics?
- Is there adequate space at the front for your event interpreter? Are clear sight lines present?
- Is the space well-lit? Will presenters/speakers be easily visible at the front?
- Is the project screen clearly visible?
Asking these questions and more during your planning process will help you think more critically and proactively about the accessibility of your event as a whole.
Planning for accessible events requires intentionality on your part. You must proactively think about accessibility from the outset rather than have a reactive approach. Remember that not all spaces on your campus are accessible and picking an inaccessible space sends the wrong message to participants. Being flexible and intentional with your planning will allow you to have a successful event where all attendees can fully participate and enjoy it.