30 April 2024

Six steps to support and enhance accessibility at an event.

Image: Two young women in wheelchairs travel down a pathway together.

From conferences and concerts to festivals and workshops, events serve as vital platforms for collaboration, learning, and community engagement. Here is how to make any event a more inclusive one.

True accessibility goes beyond having a wheelchair ramp. It includes providing accessibility training for staff - including security, having Auslan interpreters present, sensory rooms and braille where possible.

While we have seen improvements in recent years with events like Abilityfest championing the way. There are still countless examples of people with disability who have felt unwelcome at events and/or faced barriers due to the lack of access or the way they were treated by staff.

These experiences start long before an event does with advertising and ticketing being key blockers. From music fans to sports fans, people have reported facing difficulties accessing tickets for themselves, their companions and carers. Even when a person with a disability does manage to secure tickets for accessible seating, some people have arrived at events to find camera crews in the accessible seating area, their view blocked, or their seats have been given away.

In 2023, festival-goers encountered barriers at the Sydney Laneway Festival. Security turned away people with disabilities from the accessible viewing platform, even when they provided correspondence from organisers granting them access to the space. Late last year, actor Chloe Hayden, who is autistic and has ADHD, shared that she was made to feel unwelcome by staff at a Harry Styles concert when she tried to use a sensory room at Marvel Stadium.

Image: Jacob Cremen-Darkin smiles at the camera whilst on the viewing platform at Ability Fest. Image from Jacob Cremen-Darkin via ABC News.

Not only is it a legal obligation to ensure that events are accessible to all individuals, but it is also a fundamental principle of inclusivity and a social responsibility. Accommodations can break down barriers, foster participation, and create enriching experiences for everyone involved.

Here are six steps you can follow when planning an event to ensure everyone feels welcome.

1. Consider accessible features

When planning an event, you can consider a number of accommodations.

  • Wheelchair-accessibility: venues should have ramps, elevators, and accessible bathrooms, all in working order.

  • Reserve seating: ensure ample seating is available and that there are designated seating areas to accommodate people with mobility impairments and who use mobility aids. Seating should also be reserved close to the stage for people with low vision or towards the back for those who need frequent breaks.

  • Online broadcasting: Broadcast the event live or create a recording to share online to ensure access for individuals who cannot attend in person.

  • Sensory rooms: Assign a designated room for those who may become overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, offering a quiet and calming space to retreat to.

  • Accessible signage: This includes meeting visual accessibility standards, such as colour contrast and font size, but can also incorporate the use of braille and other tactile elements that enable individuals with visual impairments to navigate the event space independently.

  • Loop system: This provides clear audio transmissions and enhances accessibility for those with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

By incorporating these accessible features, event organisers can create environments that not only cater to the diverse needs of people with disabilities but also benefit all attendees.

Image: A person in a wheelchair using a concrete ramp.

2. Register individual needs

While incorporating general accessibility features, it is crucial to recognise that people with disabilities have diverse needs, and individual requirements may vary.

A fundamental step in creating an inclusive environment is actively seeking input from participants so that event organisers can tailor accommodations to suit a range of disabilities.

Asking for information about attendees' accessibility needs can be done through various channels and methods, such as:

  • Registration forms: Include a section on accessibility needs in the event registration form.

  • Accessible communication channels: Offer multiple communication channels for attendees to express their accessibility needs, such as email, phone, or an online contact form.

  • Accessibility Coordinator: Designate a specific individual or team member as the accessibility coordinator responsible for handling inquiries and accommodations requests.

Image: A man in a wheelchair is beside another man drinking from a white mug at an event. Behind them, small groups of people interact.

3. Communicate accessibility information

It is essential to communicate accessibility information with attendees in the lead–up to and during an event - and ensure this is done in an accessible manner.

Share information with your attendees, which includes things like:

  • a breakdown of what to expect.

  • an itinerary with start and finish times outlined, as well as breaks and session times.

  • a map of the event space with important features highlighted, such as where to find accessible toilets and sensory spaces.

When sending out this information, it is important to make sure the content is accessible. This includes using plain English, providing alt text for images or descriptions for videos, considering font size and colour contrast, using inclusive language, and providing Easy Read versions.

You can learn more about accessible communication here.

Image: A woman is in an office, holding a mobile phone to her ear and writing on a piece of paper.

4. Staff training

Employees may not be familiar with various types of disabilities, how they present and affect people or the accommodations they may need.

By providing accessibility training, employees gain an understanding of the diverse needs and presentations of people with disabilities and how to provide appropriate support. This dispels myths, enhances customer service, and improves the experience at your event for people with disabilities.

It is never ok to ask someone to prove they have a disability.

There are a number of organisations that offer accessibility training, such as:

Image: Three people sitting around a conference table in an office.

5. Incorporate the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program

Designed to encourage inclusivity, acceptance and understanding, the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program provides lanyards and wristbands that people with disability can wear to let others know that they have access needs or may need support.

Incorporating this into an event ensures that visitors wearing the lanyard or wristband are supported by staff at all levels and indicates to attendees that your event is a safe space, which can reduce the anxiety many people feel about asking for assistance.

It is important to communicate to staff, however, that if individuals choose not to wear the sunflower, staff must still provide assistance and should not ask for proof of a disability.

You can learn more about Implementing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower at large events here.

Image: Green lanyards and cards with sunflowers from the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program.

6. Provide feedback channels

Another great way to support people with disabilities is to create open and transparent communication channels where attendees are encouraged to express their suggestions or concerns following an event. Having a feedback system in place allows your organisation to continuously improve and tailor accommodations to better meet the diverse needs of attendees at future events.

Image: A man sits in front of a desktop computer typing.

By ensuring events are accessible and adopting an inclusive approach, we can ensure more people with disability feel welcomed at events, building a more compassionate and inclusive society where everyone feels valued and empowered.

For further education, we suggest visiting:

Diversity and inclusion at Life Without Barriers

At Life Without Barriers, we celebrate diversity, and we practice inclusion.

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