There are many disabled people who would love to take part in many events that relate to their interests or with causes they support, like ecology, disability rights, feminism, economic equality, lgbtq+, cultural diversity, children/women/animal rights, art & culture, mental health, etc. But some events aren’t accessible.
That’s why here I have some strategies to improve your event’s accesibility.
People on the autistic spectrum or those with sensory processing issues can literally be hurt by a lot of noises. So, by reducing background noise, you can improve their experiences of the event. Even better, you can provide noise-cancelling headphones since people with ADHD/memory deficits can forget them. Others may feel ashamed to wear them, but having them available would send the message that you want to normalize accessibility and they are a welcomed accommodation.
If you can, learn sign language as a part of your professional portfolio and have a sign language interpreter at your events. It doesn’t only serve deaf people, but can also be the preferred communication method for many people with disabilities like central auditory processing disorder.
Make sure the events take place somewhere it is easy to maneuver around in a wheelchair. Choose places with ramps and/or elevators; and, if outdoors, a well-paved street and sidewalks between the disability parking spaces and the front entrance.
Flashing lights can be dangerous for epileptic people and can induce a seizure. Air fresheners and some chemicals can be deadly to some people with asthma or mast cell disorders.
Find a venue with clean bathrooms, especially those with accessible toilets and adult changing stations. Make sure they’re sanitary spaces. Not only will wheelchair users will be thankful, but you’ll also ensure a safer space for immunocompromised people, incontinent people, and people with stomas.
First Aid and Emergency Care
Do you know what to do if someone has a seizure? Can you adminster an EpiPen for people having a life-threatening allergic reaction or a Glucagon pen for people having a diabetic episode?
Well, learn. You can save lies.
Plain language is the phrase used to describe accessible language. This benefits people with intellectual disability or learning disorders, but it also helps people who are not native language speakers and those without academic privilege.
Giving speeches or lectures with commonly-used words also makes it easier for deaf/hard of hearing people to read your lips.
People with pyschiatric conditions or autistics can have meltdowns, dissociations, shutdowns, suicidal crisis, or panic-anxiety attacks, which can make them harm themselves or others. Save lives, know we aren’t in control.
Many people are able to process upsetting stimuli if they are told in advance and can be emotionally prepared for it. It is often the element of surprise when upsetting details are included that can trigger trauma reactions.
Common topics or imagery which need content warnings include details of abuse or violence, flashing images, images of bodily fluids, images of injuries, death, miscarriage, hate speech/crimes, and threatening language.
Natural or Fresh-Made Food
People with chronic illnesses and severe food allergies can be sensitive to even trace amounts of preservatives and artificial colors or flavors, or common allergens like soy, nuts, and eggs. Try to have at least a few options for these people.
Well-ventilated spaces reduce airborne irritants and even transmittability of viruses and bacteria. It also reduces strong odors for people with sensory issues.
Even if you are trying to be environmentally friendly, give the option for plastic disposable straws. People with swallowing conditions, mobility issues, and sensory issues can choke easily on liquids or are more likely to spill their drinks without a straw. Hard straws can be dangerous for these individuals.
Introduce Help Staff
Introduce the staff before the event and direct people where to go and who to see if they need assistance, help with directions, questions answered, or accommodations. If someone feels doubtful/ insecure, that person will know help is there. This also helps to normalize inclusive events for abled attendees and sets the tone that inclusion is important.
Identity and Language
Ask people how they prefer to be referenced– not just for their pronouns, but also if they person-first.
Deaf, blind, and autistic communities largely preffer identity-first (autistic intead of person with autism, blind instead of “person with blindness,” deaf instead of “person with deafness”).
Try to come up with activities that are inclusive of people with mobility-related disability (Parkinson’s, connective tissue disorders, partial paralysis, arthritis, etc.) or visual or hearing impairments.
If you do have these activities, plan ways to include people who need to participate differently: written instructions or Braille, sign language interpreters, roles specifically designed for wheelchair users or those with limited mobility, etc.)
If you can, provide a space that is quiet and with natural or low light for people who need to take a sensory or social break, to take medications or attended to medical needs, to calm down, or to rest if fatigue is a symptom of their disability.
Announce in Advance
When advertising or marketing your event, announce what measures you have taken to make the event accessible so that people with disabilities know that they can attend. Leave an email address on your promotional material so that people can ask questions in advance or make requests.
It’s not always possible to make all accommodations to serve all populations for all events. You may not be able to find a sign language interpreter at the last minute or change locations to one that has an elevator.
Even if an accommodation is not possible for your budget, your space, or the nature of your event, you can still learn about the needs of your community and try to accommodate for those needs in future events.
You can ask those people if they have ideas about how to work around your budget and barriers and include them anyway. This may mean providing a live stream for people unable to attend in person (or a video recording).
You may not be able to get a sign language interpreter, but you may be able to record a speech and provide a transcript afterwards. You may not be able to ask all presenters, like poets or authors doing a reading of their book– to only use plain language, but you can consider providing a plain language hand-out with a summary, glossary, large print, and key points. You might not have an option about catering, but you can arrange delivery for those with special dietary needs.
Trying, listening, coming up with creative work-arounds, and asking for feedback show your community and stakeholders that inclusion matters to you. Trying, talking about inclusion, and making inclusion a priority will contribute to a social shift and inspire others to do the same.