Guides for inclusive and accessible events

People standing watching a band on stage. There are fireworks in the background. Inclusive and accessible events.Eventually we will emerge from COVID lockdowns and the event and conference industry will get going again. This is a good time for venue owners and event managers to find ways to be more inclusive. And that doesn’t mean asking speakers or attendees to nominate their individual requirements. So here are some guides for inclusive and accessible events. 

The Australian Network on Disability (AND) has a webpage with a basic checklist which is a good place to begin. It covers choosing a venue, invitations, marketing, wayfinding, room arrangements and catering. 

Front cover of Zero Conference Accessibility Guidelines.The Zero Project guidelines are based on real experience of running conferences. The guide is comprehensive and detailed, and explains the development of the guidelines. 

The New South Wales Government has an Event Starter Guide webpage which includes a section on accessibility. The guide covers transportation, parking, signage, and communicating access features, and more. There is also a Toolkit for accessible and inclusive events that has a checklist and accessibility symbols. 

Front cover of City of Sydney guidelines.The City of Sydney Inclusive and accessible event guidelines include information on why events should be inclusive. It has information on the different types of disability people experience. It has four sections covering indoor and outdoor events and a set of checklists:

    1. Accessible venues and spaces
    2. Opportunities for inclusive participation
    3. Accessible materials and information
    4. Staff awareness and attitudes

There are more posts on meetings, events and festivals in the Inclusive Events and Conferences section of this website. 

Can everybody hear me? Protocol for meetings and events

Front cover of the protocol for meetings and events.
Protocol for meetings and events

People who can’t hear well at meetings tend to avoid them. They also avoid events at restaurants and even family gatherings because it’s frustrating and tiring trying to concentrate on listening all the time. People with hearing loss tend not to disclose at meetings, which makes matters worse. When speakers announce, “Can everybody hear me?” few, if any will respond. Besides, without a microphone, nothing improves. The Ideas for Ears Protocol for meetings and events has some great tips.

Unless people with hearing loss are catered for, their voices will be left out of focus groups and community consultations. Their exclusion then becomes self-perpetuating. People with hearing loss should be able to participate in civic events and activities on the same basis as others. 

Ideas for Ears in the UK actively advocates for people with hearing loss and has developed the Hearing Access Protocol for meetings and events. It provides guidance on how to run meetings so people with any hearing ability can hear and follow them. The Protocol was developed by people with hearing loss and it comes in PDF version and a short online Hearing Access booklet. 

Also see the related post, “I don’t need a microphone”. But yes, you do.  

Festivals and markets for everyone

Events, festivals and markets need to plan for inclusion.Organisers of festivals, markets and events need to think about accessibility and inclusion in their planning. Ordering an accessible Portaloo doesn’t suddenly make the event accessible. The layout of stalls and entertainment areas also need to be considered. 

Lee Wilson makes a plea to organisers of festivals and markets for more inclusive thinking in his post on Linked In. He gives an overview of things to think about and that includes emergency procedures. Information should also be accessible, particularly to people who do not read English well, or have low vision. Auslan interpreters and audio describers make festivals and events enjoyable for people who are deaf or blind. There are several good resources on making events inclusive:

Accessible Events Checklist from the WA Government

Accessible Events Guide from Meetings and Events Australia

Event Accessibility Checklist from Australian Network on Disability (AND)

The City of Sydney’s Vivid Festivals have a high level of accessibility which is planned from the outset. 

 

Talking about it afterwards: accessible communication

Firefighter Andrea Hall in full dress uniform and white gloves signs during the inauguration of Biden and Harris.
Firefighter Andrea Hall signs during the Presidential inauguration.

When there is a big televised international, national or local event, people like to talk about it afterwards. Joining in a conversation is part of belonging. But if you couldn’t see or hear the event then that sense of belonging is lost. You can’t talk about it afterwards if communication isn’t accessible.  

A nicely written article on the Danish Universal Design Hub website (use Google translate) explains how the Biden administration is being inclusive. The Biden and Harris inauguration ceremony was very different to the previous one. Everyone was invited to the Biden-Harris party:

“All parts of the day were on separate channels sign language interpreter, live text and sight interpreter. People with disabilities had the opportunity to participate in the entire event. Clothes, people, speeches and scenes were described, down to the gold strings on the orchestra’s uniforms.”

The article discusses what it means to be included in such cultural and social events. Accessible communication means more than just understanding what is being communicated. It includes. 

 

Captioning live theatre brings culture change

A graphic of the theatre masks of comedy and tragedy.If designs are not “born” accessible then it becomes a process of finding “work-arounds”. It can be seen in tacked-on ramps or clumsy platform lifts in buildings. Revolving doors mean another separate door for wheelchair and pram users. Special captioning apps or screenings in cinemas, and “special accommodations” at work and at school. It takes a change of culture to think inclusively and to understand its value. 

While practitioners in many fields agree with the concept of inclusion for all, the organisations they work for are slow to get on board. This is because it takes a culture change to think and act inclusively. This is a key point in an article about how introducing captioning helped change the organisation’s culture. 

Although the article is in the context of higher education, it provides some insights into how to drive culture change. Basically, it stems from the need to innovate. The article provides background to the project and a step by step explanation of the process to create live captioning for a live theatre performance.

Theatre performances require more than actors. Many people work behind the scenes from the scriptwriter to the curtain operator. So, many different people worked on the project. More importantly, they saw the results. At first they thought captioning would be a distraction, but in the end it became “traction”. Staff came around and saw the positive impact. The value of hands-on experience with the development and seeing the outcomes was the key to culture change.

The authors conclude that, “creating accessible environments doesn’t need to be expensive”. But it does take time, thoughtfulness and the involvement of users.

The title of the article is, From “Distraction” to “Traction”: Dancing around barriers to caption live theatre and promote culture change.

Abstract

Laws and policies worldwide increasingly demand that all users have
equivalent ability to interact with their environment, independent of disabilities. This includes educational and work environments as well as entertainment. Technologies have greatly facilitated the development of accessible resources and processes; however, a culture of accessible design is still not fully developed, and not all solutions are affordable, so there is still resistance. This paper outlines the steps of a team effort at a small private college to provide captioning for a live theatre production, Stepping Out, which resulted not only in rendering the performance accessible but also helped grow the culture of accessibility at the institution.

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.

Is your professional association inclusive?

logo of American Sociological Society - blue on white backgroundThe American Sociological Association has developed a comprehensive policy to ensure the highest level of inclusion for all members. They have 15 recommendations that could be a model for others to follow.

While the focus is on conferences, seminars and other events they hold, the list also includes: how to file a disability complaint regarding the association, processes for membership renewal to the association, orientation to conference venue or meeting site, and web content accessibility rules. The article is in the Association’s publication, Footnotes, and is titledImplementing Professional Curb Cuts: Recommendations of the Status Committee on Persons with Disabilities.

ASA has on ongoing commitment to using universal design principles to make ASA events truly welcoming to all members. 

The Status Committee’s 15 recommendations are: 

    1. Continue to support the Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
    2. Continue to collect disability related data during membership renewal process.
    3. Fully institute a system for recording disability concerns and their resolution.
    4. Provide accessible electronic copies of the Annual Meeting program upon request as a standard accessibility feature.
    5. Establish as standard ASA policy and practice the distribution of a letter regarding disability services to members who check the box requesting information during their membership renewal.
    6. As part of standard meeting policy, the hotel should complete an accessibility checklist, preferably before contracting or at least a year before the meeting, to enable the identification of accessibility problems. Based on this checklist, ASA staff can identify potential problems and negotiate their resolution. Completed checklists should be recorded and saved, and made available to the committee to the extent appropriate, along with reports on changes made to properties in response to them.
    7. As part of standard meeting policy, the ASA should conduct an on-site inspection following receipt of the checklist.
    8. Provide an orientation/walk-through of the Annual Meeting site upon request as a standard accessibility service (to be conducted by members of the Committee or members of the Section on Disabilities).
    9. Provide a gender-neutral restroom as a standard accessibility service.
    10. Provide captioning for all plenary sessions as standard practice (not simply upon request).
    11. Insert accessibility features/concerns onto the Annual Meeting program maps.
    12. Materials related to the Annual Meeting site more broadly should offer relevant accessibility information (e.g., the restaurant guide, tour descriptions, and location transportation information).
    13. A brief mention of disability services and how to file a concern/complaint should be in the Annual Meeting program, on the website, and emailed to any member who has requested information on these services when they renewed their membership.
    14. As a matter of policy, include a link to the 2008 Footnotes articles on universal design and accessible presentations in acceptance notices for Annual Meeting presentations.
    15. Provide continued support needed to gain a “Double-A Conformance to Web Content Accessibility” sticker for the ASA web site, awarded by the Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI). 

Keep it Simple for Inclusion

A group of language dictionaries are laid out on a table.First there was closed captioning and then live captioning. Audio describing came along soon afterwards. Now we have the possibility of “simultaneous simplification”. Two researchers wanted to ensure people with various cognitive conditions could participate in a conference. Using audio transcribing facilities, interpreters simplified the language of the speakers in real time.  

After the conference they interviewed participants and found people with significant cognitive conditions were able to fully participate in a professional conference. Participants also retained the information a few weeks later. Of course, people who don’t speak the language of the speaker also benefit. The title of the short paper is, Simultaneous Simplification: Stretching the Boundaries of UDL.

Editor’s note: I’d like to see academics writing for the general population instead of writing in academic code for the benefit of other academics. Useful knowledge on many things would become more readily available to everyone. It’s time to have universally designed academic papers. 

“I don’t need a microphone.” But yes, you do

Picture of an ear with sound wavesThere are three types of hearing augmentation systems – but which one to use? The system preferred by most users is a “hearing loop”. It is connected to the sound system in a meeting room or auditorium. People wearing a hearing device with a telecoil, have the sound sent directly to the device. It screens out all the background noise and gives definition to the speech. However, a microphone must be used all the time. So no more “I’ve got a loud voice, I don’t need a microphone” because it won’t be transmitted.

Hearing Connections website gives an explanation of this system, FM and Infra-red systems. A system with an ambient microphone that picks up all the sound in the room amplifies all the sounds – so background noise is included with the speech. It can defeat the object. Also, the system should be turned on automatically – no-one should need to ask for it – that’s the point. Building designers, owners and managers have a legal obligation to incorporate the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Editor’s comment: I’ve been given lots of different reasons why the hearing system isn’t working. I’ve been told that permission is needed from  security to turn it on, as well as being told it can’t be switched on because people outside the room might hear confidential information. Clearly, having the system installed and connected is one thing, and training people about its use and purpose is another. 

Making conferences more accessible

A student lab showing a man with a cochlear implant talking to a womanAn academic paper titled Making Academia More Accessible chooses to start the topic with accessible conferences and events. A case study is used to to demonstrate how it is possible to overcome “Ableism in Academia”. An interesting and easy read for anyone staging events of any size.

Each of the features are listed including; quiet room, catering, live captioning, sign language, PowerPoint presentations, staging, microphone use, ticketing and toilets. The concluding reflections discuss the feedback they received and the ongoing impact of this work. The paper also discusses how academia has to consider the diversity of its workforce as well as its student body and others. The case study comes from University College London and University of Kent. There is a link to a one page summary of the strategies at the end of the article.

While there were extra costs involved, especially live captioning and signing, there was no extra budget assigned – it was achieved by volunteer effort and sponsorship. The argument for the economic value of inclusion is therefore lost and will continue to be lost until it is realised the extra cost is actually an investment. It is not ‘lost’ money.

Conference attendance from a user perspective

picture of a large audience watching a presentation.When academics organise a conference on health and wellbeing, the people being discussed are likely to be in the audience and on the speaking program. But how many academic conference organisers think about this? Not many it seems.

Sarah Gordon has written a very readable article about her experience as a conference speaker, attendee and user of the health system. Conferences with disability related content are generally considerate of the “nothing about us without us” approach. But when it comes to conferences on mental health, these delegates are given little if any consideration.

While the focus is on mental health in this paper, the comments can be applied more generally. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability is referenced throughout and this makes it a long read. Conferences are part of the right to life-long learning and education, and the right to give and receive information. The application of universal design principles are discussed as a way to create greater inclusion for conferences. The paper is titled, What makes a ‘good’ conference from a service user perspective? by Sarah Gordon and Kris Gledhill, in the International Journal of Mental Health and Capacity Law (2017).