Universally Designed Conferences

People sitting either side of an aisle listening to a speaker. Often forgotten both here and in the USA is the idea that conferences should be universally designed. Most  conference organisers target a workforce audience and they assume people with disability don’t have jobs. This is chicken and egg. If you don’t see someone at a conference with a disability it’s easy to assume they aren’t around. If the conference is not inclusive, they won’t come. 

A new article on universal design and accessible conferences joins the dots between all the aspects of a conference. It needs a holistic approach because it is much more than ensuring there is an accessible toilet. The article applies the principles of universal design as a way of thinking about access and inclusion. It covers:

      • online booking
      • transport and parking
      • registration
      • seating
      • catering
      • wayfinding
      • accommodation
      • communication aids
      • access to the podium. 

The research questions for the literature review were:

    • What strategies can be used to encourage and facilitate access and inclusion for conference participants with a disability?

    • How can the principles of Universal Design be used to support the inclusion of participants with disabilities to conferences?

The title of the article is, Increasing participation: Using the principles of universal design to create accessible conferences. It is an open access article. 

Abstract:  The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) mandates the inclusion of individuals with disabilities to a broad range of facilities and public buildings. One overlooked area is access to conferences. Conferences are held in a range of buildings, including purpose-built venues, hotels, and stadia. Often, the focus is on access for people with mobility limitations, but access for people with other disabilities, such as vision or hearing loss, or mental ill-health, can be overlooked. This is a significant oversight since around 19% of the population experience a disability (Brault, 2012): it makes sound business sense, as well as a sense of social justice, to ensure more people can access conferences. This article uses a literature review methodology to highlight key considerations to make conferences more accessible to a broad range of people with disabilities. A theoretical framework of Universal Design is proposed to support the ideas. A holistic approach is taken to inclusion, including online booking, transport, and parking, since, without these being accessible, the event becomes inaccessible. Other aspects considered include registration, seating, restrooms, catering, and communication aids. Creating accessible conferences can help promote equity and inclusion and bring people with diverse perspectives together to enrich a conference.

Editor’s Note: Of course, when the topic of the conference involves disability, event organisers are often on a steep learning curve to make sure it is accessible and inclusive. However, they don’t apply these principles to their other conferences.