Don't plan your event for most people, plan it for as many people
When I started working at a visual impairment charity I was a little nervous. I’d never worked with blind people before, I didn’t know what to say or how to act. On my first day I was embarrassed when a colleague came up and pointed out that my bag, sitting at the side of my desk, could be a trip hazard for a visually impaired person– of course it was! How could I not have realised it?!
I hadn’t realised my bag was a hazard because on some level I was still taking my own abilities and experiences as universal.
Fast forward one week and I was perfectly at home. Making accommodations for people living with sight loss is straightforward, it boils down to one thing – don’t assume people can see. Describe a little more and point a little less. It might seem obvious, but in a world that caters for the median person it takes a small but significant shift in thinking to leave your built-in assumptions behind. This brings me to my first important point for event accessibility…
Not everyone can see. Not everyone can hear. Not everyone can walk, converse comfortably, pay, access the internet or cope with busy environments. Acknowledging and accepting peoples’ limits and abilities is one of the most important steps in making your event accessible. Once you’ve thought about the potential accessibility barriers you can start to find ways to remove or minimise them.
When choosing a location for your event think about how people might get there, how they will use the facilities and how they will leave. Most large professional venue spaces will have accessibility information, for example Glasgow Science Centre. Ask to see this when considering a venue and interrogate it. If the venue doesn’t seem capable of hosting an accessible event, then keep looking. For smaller events it might be easier to have site visit or conversation with the manager about accommodations that can be put in place.
Information is key. When living with a disability it can be more challenging to cope with unexpected situations and the more information you can give people the more prepared they can be. Things to include:
Event format and timings (e.g. Walking Tour/Seated talk/Interactive workshop).
Venue location: include basic info on parking and transport such as the nearest train and bus stations.
Accessibility information: share or link to the information provided by the venue.
Accessibility barriers: With location specific events there may be issues to highlight e.g. if you are planning a tour of Salisbury cathedral tower you have no option but to climb 332 steps. When barriers cannot be removed make sure they are highlighted.
Facilities provided: mention any services that visitors may be interested in such as gender-neutral toilets, child care facilities, or quiet rooms for autistic visitors
Registration When visitors register for your event its an opportunity to find out about them and their requirements. Make the forms accessible, inclusive and informative.
Accessible While people mostly register for events online remember this may be difficult or impossible for some – so include an alternate option such a phone number, even if it is your own. Not many people will use this but remember we’re not catering for “most people” you are catering for “as many people”.
Inclusive The form should make people feel like the event is for them and that you care about all your guests, so none of the questions should alienate people. I’ve taken gender as an example below.
Don’t ask: “Gender? Male/Female” This says that people must be one or the other or the event isn’t meant for them.
Don’t ask: “Gender? Male/Female/Other” While this acknowledges