Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building Vibrant, Diverse, Inclusive, Accessible Communities!

 

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Tips and Suggestions for how to Plan for a Welcoming and Inclusive Accessible Event or Gathering

By Mike Thompson, 12 December, 2022

Celebrate Diversity! - Plan Accessible Events - Diverse Planning Meeting Including People with Disabilities and People of Different Racial Backgrounds

 

Abdul-Baha, the perfect exemplar and extoller of all of the virtues of what it means to be what we are intended to be as humans, was the host of many gatherings and events.  From the many stories of his travels and engagements, we know that his attention, care, and focus, was on Unity and Justice, and always on Inclusion of those who were considered to be historically marginalized populations, including those with disabilities. 

For Baha'is, almost everything that happens in our communities can be considered an event. When organizing an event, regardless of its size, it's essential to think about accessibility for all participants. 

Do we even have people attending our events who need any of these Accessibility Services?

If you think that nobody with disabilities attends your events, it's worth reconsidering why that might be the case. Perhaps people with disabilities are aware that your events are not accessible, or maybe some attendees have disabilities but are not provided with the necessary accessible services. Therefore, the tips and resources provided here can help you make your events more accessible and inclusive as a host. By doing so, you might discover that many more people would love to participate in your events or attend more frequently.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 Adults in the United States have some type of Disability.Neglecting accessibility can leave these people without access to parts or all of the event, making it less welcoming and inclusive. Unfortunately, many event planners forget about accessibility, resulting in People with Disabilities being left out. 

What prevents People with Disabilities from participating?

It is extremely important to remember that it is not a person’s Disability that prevents them from being able to participate in your event.  Rather, instead, it is whether or not your event is made to be Accessible that will determine whether or not they will be able to participate.  Think about it for moment.  If an event is held in a building at the top of some stairs and there is no elevator.  A person who uses a wheelchair is excluded, not because of their Disability, but because of the poor planning by the host of the event instead.  Lack of Accessibility prevents their ability to participate!  Remember not all Accessibility involves physical barriers.

How can we remove barriers to Accessibility that prevent us from having a Diverse, Accessible Community?

The point is to remove barriers that prevent us from building vibrant communities. In that process we must establish just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions of society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as “other”.  

Here are some common things to help you plan for an Accessible event or gathering from the beginning.  You will probably not need everything on this list every time.  However, you should be prepared to to offer any of these things every time.  Once you learn about these tips and resources you will be able to make wise decisions.

Knowing about these things and utilizing them in your event planning and hosting, as well as having these resources available, will help you make wise decisions as a host for a welcoming, inclusive, and accessible event.


Invitation:

When inviting people to your event, ensure that the invitation format is accessible. For instance, paper invitations are not accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision. If you send invitations via email or post them as a link on a website, adhere to international accessibility standards for electronic documents. When using PDF format, provide descriptive alt text for any images.

When providing directions for your event in the invitation, consider including transit directions in addition to driving directions. This is important because many individuals with disabilities do not drive. Make sure to include the nearest bus stop or public transit location, as well as how to reach your event location from there.

If this is going to be a No Smoking and Fragrance-Free Event, then be sure to clearly state this on the invitation.

Including a way for individuals to request barrier removal on your invitation is crucial to ensure their participation in your event. Knowing what you will need to have in advance will help you plan and prepare for necessary resources. Consider providing a checklist similar to the one below on your invitation:


As we strive to remove barriers to creating a vibrant community, I will need the following in order to be able to participate please:1

    [ ] Accessible Parking     
    [ ] Access to electrical outlets for assistive devices         
    [ ] Advance copy of slides and other materials in an accessible format         
              [ ] Electronic         
              [ ] Large Print         
              [ ] Audio     
              [ ] Braille         
    [ ] Assistive listening device         
    [ ] Captioning     
    [ ] Diet Restrictions. Clearly indicate allergens and gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, sugar-free, or other options. List: ___________________
       
    [ ] Gender-neutral bathroom         
    [ ] Guide Dog Relief area         
    [ ] Lactation room        
    [ ] Reserved front row seat         
    [ ] Fragrance-Free Environment         
    [ ] American Sign Language ASL Interpreter         
    [ ] Wheelchair access         
    [ ] Other: _____________________________     
    
    You may choose to add in selections for other services such as:     
    
    [ ] Child Care        
    [ ] Other Languages       
    [ ] Food and Dessert options            

as well as any other options that you might offer. All of these things help you to plan ahead for available resources.

Be sure to keep the information regarding Accessibility, confidential.  This is not intended as public information.  It is only intended for the host to be able to provide necessary Accessibility.

Once you offer an accessibility checklist, ensure that you have those items ready at the event. Clearly communicate with each individual who made a request and inform them in advance that their requested accessibility options will be available to them.

As a host, it's crucial to avoid promoting your event as accessible and then failing to follow through on that promise. This can cause attendees with disabilities to feel unwelcome and excluded, and worse, be unable to participate. This can send a message to everyone that they don't belong, leaving them in the cold and designating them as "other". This reputation can spread quickly and harm the reputation of your event. To avoid this, be a responsible, caring, and inclusive host who follows through on accessibility offerings.


Registration:

Make sure the registration process for your event is accessible, especially if it requires online registration. Online registration forms can meet international accessibility standards if designed properly. To achieve this, forms and buttons must be appropriately labeled, and the navigation, error messages, confirmation screens, and resulting emails must all conform to the international accessibility standards.

See our resource page on Accessible Forms for more information.


Event Location:

If this is a Physical vs. Virtual event, then attention to several details of the actual event location are important.

If you will be hosting the event in your home, then be sure to read: Things to Remember When Inviting a Wheelchair User to Your Home

To ensure inclusivity, it's important for both the host and event committee members to have a basic understanding of disability issues and be sensitive to them. It's essential to communicate to volunteers and committee members that individuals with disabilities should receive the same treatment as other event participants. The ADA National Network offers helpful tips in this regard.

  • See a person as a complete individual, rather than just focusing on their disability.
  • Don't be too anxious or overprotective. People will communicate their needs.
  • Certain individuals may require additional time to move, speak, perform tasks, or participate in activities. The actions of people with cognitive or developmental disabilities might be unsettling to those who are not familiar with such disabilities. However, there is no need to be fearful, and like any other individual, respect and patience are expected. In short, provide excellent customer service to everyone.

Ensure that staff and volunteers are aware of accessible features, including accessible restrooms, TTYs, ramps, and accessible materials such as programs, handouts, and study materials.

  • Accessible Signage and Spoken directions. Make sure to have someone available to give clear spoken directions, provide guidance, and even assist people in locating facilities or activities.
  • Parking - Accessible parking near venue; proximity to bus stop; ramp and/or elevator access;
  • Accessible Bathrooms -  Gender neutral bathroom with Wheelchair access
  • Barrier-free pathways; wide doorways and aisles to accommodate wheelchairs/scooters; no loose cables across walking areas.
  • Wheelchair access to Seating as well as access to working tables throughout room
  • Tips on being a great host to a Blind Person
  • Guide Dogs and Service Animals – Consider access and space for Guide dogs
  • Comfortable space for service animals to rest during event; accessible toileting and watering facilities nearby.
  • 3 Steps to Organizing a Fragrance Free Event
  • Lactation room
  • Assistive Listening Devices - If you don't already own your own Portable Assistive Listening Devices or have a Loop system installed. You might want to consider Renting some Assistive Listening Devices just for the duration of your event. Rentals usually include headphones and neckloops that connect to a receiver for use with a hearing aid equipped with a T-coil switch or an induction earphone. With assisted listening system you can broadcast a speaker’s voice or audio program from the provided transmitter.
  • Food - Clearly mark, in Accessible Format, all gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, sugar-free or other options available.

Virtual or On-Line Events:

If this is a Virtual or On-Line Event, then attention to several details up front regarding Accessibility will help.


Program:

Presentations

Make sure that your presenters know about your commitment to accessibility and ask them to prepare and deliver their presentations with accessibility in mind.

Provide your presenters with a checklist and request that they:1

  • Submit materials in advance so that they can be forwarded to individuals who may not be able to view various screens or other presentation materials;
  • Verbally describe visual materials such as Slides, Charts, Images, Diagrams, Videos etc. (If no Descriptive Audio is Included);
  • Make printed copies available (in larger font and other requested Accessible formats);
  • Avoid using small print on presentations that can’t be seen from a distance;
  • Make sure speakers (including those asking questions) always use a microphone;
  • Include and activate Captions and Audio Descriptions on any video used in the presentation. Always describe videos yourself in real time if no Descriptive Audio is available.  Showing video without these features is both meaningless and discriminatory;
  • Be sure to Call on and Include People with Disabilities during any interactive portions of the presentation.  Make sure they get an equal opportunity to participate in all activities;
  • Encourage regular or hourly breaks; 

Vision Disabilities. Individuals with visual disabilities may need to be physically close to visually presented information, instructions, or activities such as maps, artwork, and photographs. For those for whom this approach is ineffective or are blind, additional explanations may be necessary to convey essential themes and facts. As with exhibits, providing sample objects that participants can touch and feel can be helpful. 2

Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Ideally, American Sign Language ASL Interpreters would be provided for every public event, as well as at smaller activities with Deaf participants. Interpreters charge a fee, but that can be an investment in “building increasingly diverse communities.” 3

Cognitive or Developmental Disabilities. Keep instructions simple and presented in short sentences. Instructions for people with cognitive disabilities are more effective if participants must act after each direction. Presenters need to be patient and willing to integrate everybody into the activities as much as possible.2

Have someone onsite who helps to ensure and follow-through on all of the things listed above.


Activities:

If you will be featuring games and other activities at your event, make sure they are Accessible!  Here is an example of one place where you can find Accessible Games and Toys.

Here is a place that makes accessibility kits that make existing games Accessible.


Unity in Diversity:

The task before us is to remove barriers that prevent us from building vibrant communities.  Lack of Accessibility for People with Disabilities certainly qualifies as a major barrier.  Disability does not discriminate according to Age, Gender, Race, Social Class or Culture.  Consequently, People with Disabilities make up the most Diverse group of humans on the Planet!

Achieving unity within a group of similar and like-minded people is easier than achieving unity within a diverse group. However, diversity alone is not enough. Our task is to achieve true Unity in Diversity, which is a much greater and more challenging goal.

Final Thoughts:

It's important to make events accessible and inclusive for everyone, including those with disabilities. People with disabilities are often excluded from events due to the lack of accessibility, which can make them feel unwelcome and left out and even unable to participate. As a host, you can remove barriers to accessibility by planning ahead and offering accessible services. This can include providing accessible invitations, including information on accessible parking and transportation, offering assistive devices and interpreters, accessible materials, and providing a fragrance-free environment. It's also important to keep accessibility information confidential and ensure that requested accessibility options are available at the event. By doing so, you can create a welcoming and inclusive environment.


Resources:


 

References:

This Article is a work in progress. It is currently being developed to help event planners with the best possible "Tips and Suggestions for how to Plan for a Welcoming and Inclusive Accessible Event or Gathering".  It draws from multiple great resources from across the internet and includes important  information from them. It enhances that information with additional resources and links to find them.  It then looks at event planning from the perspective of the way both physical and on-line events are typically held within clusters and even Nationally in American Baha'i settings.

  1. Cornell University - Accessibility Information
  2. ADA National Network
  3. Deaf and Hard of Hearing Task Force for the Baha’i community

This article will be revised regularly. Please check back often to see any updates.  If you have a Tip or Suggestion that belongs here please use our contact form below and let us know!


 

Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community!

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