The Ultimate Guide for Planning Accessible Events 

The events industry has evolved thanks to COVID. Many event planners are now offering their events in various formats. Events are now live and in-person, virtual/online, hybrid events where you have in-person attendees as well as people who are live streaming online – and many event organizers even offer video recordings of the full event afterwards.

The variety of event styles means that accessibility is more crucial than ever. But one thing hasn’t changed. Attendees expect to have a great experience at your events. As event planners, it is essential to create accessible and inclusive events for your attendees. That includes those with disabilities as well as people of all ages, body types and other out-of-the-ordinary needs. 

Our team of event professionals have come up with a checklist so you can plan your next event to make it as inclusive as possible – whether your event is in-person, online, hybrid or some other combination. 

How To Make Your Event or Meeting More Accessible 

The best way to ensure that your attendees’ needs are met is by asking questions ahead of time.

“When sending out the invitation or notice [of an event], include a welcome message to let them know they can contact the planner regarding any [special] accommodations,” shares Karen Woods, Owner and Event Planner with Creative Occasions

It is up to the event organizers to follow up on each request you receive. Most people think that these special requests are just regarding food – like allergies or people who want vegan meals — but the needs can be much more than that. These accommodations can (and should) also include people that have additional special needs that will help make the event more accessible to them. 

If you are not able to accommodate a specific request, it’s best to work with the individual to see what you are able to do to make the event a good experience for them. 

Below is a list of accessibility topics or requests that might come up as you plan your events.

Venue Accessibility 

To make sure you’re on the right track to create a successful, accessible event for all your attendees, it is best to start with your venue. Public event venues are required by law to make sure their buildings and facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. 

Before you book your location, ask the venue these questions:

  • Does the venue have elevators and ramps available for those who cannot use stairs? 
  • Are doors wide enough for wheelchairs?
  • Are the elevators marked with Braille or raised letters?
  • Is there any assistance on-site to help those with disabilities get to the event space?

Make sure your event location is accessible to all before you sign the contract. At the event, make sure that you have signage with maps showing all the accessibility amenities you’ve added, so people know where to go.

Hard of Hearing

Those in the deaf and hard of hearing community are typically willing to be flexible on how event messaging is delivered. On the event planning side, you do have options that can work with your budget and offer solutions to your attendees who have hearing issues.

 

American sign language interpreter is on-site at the event and projected on screen in the corner for virtual attendees.

  • Offer live captioning on-screen. You can use open captioning on-screen in the venue or closed captioning during your virtual event. If you have a virtual or hybrid event and are using Zoom, you can turn on closed captioning and live transcription. There are also several live transcription software options as well, like Verbit or Stenomatic.

Tweets from Twitter are scrolling across the bottom of the screen in real-time with open captions being displayed directly above them.

Allow those with hearing problems the ability to sit closer to the stage so they can read the lips of the speaker and see any captioning you have available more clearly.

Also, be sure to remind the speakers to speak clearly and ask them to face forward as much as possible. They should avoid covering their mouth when they speak. That will make it easier for anyone with hearing issues to read their lips. 

When Q&A time comes around, they should always repeat the question they were asked before they answer the question. In a crowded room, it’s often difficult for everyone to hear the question. If the presenter repeats the question, that will help not only the hard of hearing, but everyone in the room have a better experience.

Having these strategies in place will make the event more enjoyable for people who have hearing issues. 

Visually Impaired

Another impairment is vision. If you have attendees who are blind or visually impaired, it’s best to have them sit close to the stage so they can hear the presenters clearly. 

If you know that you have people that have color-blindness issues in your audience, you may want to ask your presenters to use specific colors in their presentations. For most color-blind people, you want to use green, yellow, orange, red and brown colors. When possible, avoid black backgrounds in your presentations. 

Keep in mind that many of these colors are not the best choice for the majority of your audience, so we wouldn’t recommend using these colors to accommodate just a few people. What you could do, however, is create a separate presentation deck in the correct colors for the individual color blind attendees that they can load onto their laptops and go through during the presentations.

For virtual events, blind or visually impaired attendees may need image descriptions included in the presentations. It is important to find a strong image description writer to provide the best experience for your audience. 

Best Seats In The House

Speaking of seating. Let’s talk about how to make your event area more accommodating to people of all shapes and sizes. Most meeting planners (and venues) try to pack as many people in a room as possible. When it comes to tables, the same things is true. Often the goal is to put as many chairs as close together as possible or as many chairs around a table as you can. 

The problem? Having tight quarters like this makes it difficult for some people to get in and out comfortably. (After all, not everyone is a size two!) 

When you’re planning your event space, make sure you plan ahead and make sure you leave enough space between chairs and rows so people can easily and comfortably get in and out.

Microphone Best Practices

It’s important that the audio equipment at your event is top-notch. People came to your event to hear from your presenters – so your attendees must be able to hear them. Ensuring your microphone and speakers are high quality and working at the best sound level is vitally important. Audio engineers are trained sound professionals that can determine the best sound for any space. You can connect with our team of audio engineers to assist with venue and audio equipment planning as you work to design your event space. 

Languages

As an event planner, you know your audience best. If your attendees are mostly based in the United States, it’s likely their primary language is English. But what if your event is virtual? If you’re having a virtual event, chances are you will get attendees from a variety of countries. 

Hosting an international live virtual or hybrid event might mean you’ll need some multilingual event tools. Tools like Worldy or Lengoo are good options for event planners so you can offer your event in multiple languages.

Parents Need Special Attention, Too

Parents who attend your in-person event may have special needs that you should think about, too. For instance, new moms may be breastfeeding their babies. Having a lactation room that’s clean and comfortable (and has a lock on the door) where they can go to use their breast pump will make any nursing mom relieved! Be sure to stock the room with a comfy chair, a coffee or side table as well as pop-up anti-bacterial wipes (if a sink and paper towels aren’t available in the room.) You’ll also want to have a sign outside the door that says, “Do Not Disturb.” 

If you want to go the extra mile, you could offer daycare at your event. That may help increase your attendee numbers – especially if your event is in a “vacation-like” location. Your attendees may decide to bring their family to the city and having daycare would make a nice option.

When you send the email out to attendees letting them know what to expect at the event, be sure to let parents know about these special amenities and where they can find these areas at the venue.

Dietary Restrictions

Food is something everyone thinks about when it comes to events. Will the food at the conference be good? Or will you get a cold sandwich that tastes like _____? 

There are all kinds of people with varying food preferences – everything from required diets due to religious reasons to gluten free to allergens to vegans and vegetarians and more.

Event menu so attendees can specify special dietary needs

Obviously, you can’t offer every type of “specialty” food option available, but it is a good idea to let attendees have several choices to select from. Get this information early from your attendees so your caterer can plan ahead. Also, be sure to communicate with your attendees where they need to go to pick up their special meals.

Communicate With Your Attendees In Advance

It’s important that you communicate with your attendees well in advance of the event. Everyone needs to know the details of where the event is being held as well as the preferred hotel accommodations. They also need to know about transportation options – especially those available for those with disabilities. 

Additionally, if you are making extra accommodations for people who need extra help, be sure to mention that in your communications as well. Include a detailed map of the venue with special areas clearly marked so event-goers know where they should go to find the elevators, lactation room, pick up their vegetarian meal, etc.

Virtual Events: Make Reasonable Accommodations

Our team understands the importance of accessibility for event attendees. We manage all types of events for our clients. One area of expertise is virtual/live streaming events. Selecting the right virtual event platform that’s inclusive for attendees is critical. 

Many virtual event platforms have accessibility information available publicly on their website. There are many features built into platforms, like real-time captions, magnification tools, keyboard shortcuts, and dial-in options. 

Need Help With Your Event?

Do you need help with your next event? Contact our event planning team today to connect with one of our team members. We can either serve as a consultant on your next event, help you run your live, hybrid or virtual event – or any other combination that works best for your company! We look forward to working with you!