By The New Editions Conference Team
Accessibility is a required and important part of every meeting planning process. Our population is growing older and attendees may have limitations due to aging. Individuals with disabilities are increasingly part of every community and organization. By making meetings accessible, you help create an inclusive environment and provide a greater opportunity for all attendees to participate and interact. New Editions’ conference team has planned and conducted accessible meetings for over 15 years. With “conference season” approaching, we share a few tips to help you plan inclusive meetings.
Even if you don’t know in advance whether any of the attendees will need disability-related accommodations, you should still budget for them. Include costs for sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices, captioning, and printing material in alternate formats such as Braille and large print. Keep in mind that costs for accommodations vary depending on the length and location of the meeting and costs for printing alternate formats depends on the time allowed for completing the work. Call service providers as early as possible to get quotes.
Facility managers often say their facilities are accessible, but interpretations of accessibility vary. So it is extremely important to inspect facilities to determine their level of accessibility:
- Inspect the main entrance, corridors, meeting rooms, elevators, public bathrooms, and parking garages. Make sure there are no barriers prohibiting access to the meeting room.
- The room itself must be large enough to allow participants who use wheelchairs, scooters, guide dogs and other mobility aids to easily maneuver throughout the room and provide adequate space for wheelchair seating.
- Make sure the stage/speaker area is accessible.
- Make sure an accessible restroom is near the meeting room.
Website & On-line Registration
Design your meeting website in a format that is accessible to people who are blind and have low vision and have someone test the site for usability prior to distributing the link to invitees. Tips for creating accessible websites are available from the Web Accessibility Initiative at http://www.w3.org/WAI/guid-tech.html. The website should provide information about the physical accessibility of the meeting site such as proximity to airports, public transportation options, and walking distance to nearby restaurants and attractions. The site should also list transportation options to/from the site such as wheelchair accessible van/taxi and complimentary shuttle service. Don’t forget to list a contact person to respond to accessibility questions. Use the online registration process to ask attendees whether disability-related accommodations are needed. Include a place on the registration form for attendees to indicate their accessibility requirements and if a request isn’t clear, follow up with the attendee to get clarification.
Provide speakers with clear guidelines on how to prepare slide presentations to accommodate attendees with low vision or attendees who are blind:
- Instruct speakers to use large print (18 point Helvetica) and sharp, contrasting colors for slides.
- If the slides include graphs, charts, or images, tell the speaker to be prepared to describe them during the presentation.
- Request slides or handout material in advance so that you can post the material online for attendees to download and so that you can prepare them in alternate formats.
Even if you don’t receive advance requests for material in alternate formats, it’s best to have a few copies of the agenda on hand in Braille and large print just in case. For specific guidance visit: http://www.w3.org/WAI/training/accessible.
Make sure the onsite check-in desk is adequately staffed (one staff for every 50 attendees) and is located near the meeting room in an area that is easily accessible to participants using wheelchairs, scooters and other mobility aids. Have materials in alternate formats ready to distribute to attendees who requested them. It is helpful to have a system (e.g., colored stickers on badges) to identify attendees’ accessibility requests. For example, a green sticker could indicate a Braille request and a red sticker could indicate a request for a sign language interpreter. If sign language interpreters have been requested, be sure to have them available at the check-in desk and introduce them to the participants they are serving. For meetings lasting several days and with several attendees with disabilities, keep a list of vendors that provide wheelchair/scooter repair, nearby hospitals/emergency centers, and the facility’s emergency evacuation procedures at the registration desk. Consider having additional staff on hand to escort participants to the meeting rooms, assist with seating, open and close meeting room doors, and assist with refreshments.
At first, planning accessible meetings can seem overwhelming. However, over time and with proper planning, it can become second nature. The key things to remember are: budget for disability-related accommodations, choose an accessible facility, ask attendees to identify their needs, and work closely with individuals to provide appropriate accommodations. Commit to making your next meeting accessible – you will create a positive environment that promotes full participation of all attendees.