10 steps to creating accessible and inclusive events – real and online

a presenter with large text behind












Now there is a word I’m not comfortable with. Surely if you are running and event, especially if you are also providing online access too,  you want to ensure you include as many people as possible?

I’ve had a lot of conversations this week about access and events, and rather than moan on, I thought I’d pull together my ten top tips to making sure access and inclusion stay at the top of the agenda. Oh and don’t make the mistake of thinking this is all about disability access – oh no. Everyone needs to be made to feel welcome and included.
Here we go then, ten top tips:

1. Build access in to the design

If you try to bolt on access at the end, it shows. It’s clunky, doesn’t quite fit and can cost you a fortune. Much better to build access and inclusion in to events from the very start. Ask the questions, get advice, research the options, make the decisions, and plan it all into your timeline. Cheaper, easier and a more streamlined finish.

2. Give ’em a choice

Everyone learns in different ways – so why do we continually design events that only involve people in one way? Variety is the spice of life – give people a choice, get them moving and mixing around if you can too.

3. Choose where you use; use what you’ve got

Take care with the places and spaces you use. Are they imposing? Hard to get to? Expensive to stay near? Safe at night? What facilities do they have? It’s always easier to use spaces with built-in solutions rather than to hire them in. Use the skills and knowledge you have in-house too – people often know surprising things. Create a checklist and check it (just because someone says they have a piece of kit doesn’t mean they know how to turn it on).

3. Set your own standards – and meet them

What are your standards? Set a basic level for what you provide and don’t dip below it. Aim to increase your level year on year. Not just the obvious things (wheelchair access to parking, access around spaces and toilets etc) but things like heating, seating and lighting which can create barriers for huge numbers of people – disabled and not. Your standards should also be about how people behave – have you briefed presenters, artists, chairs and compares about what you are providing and how to work with it? Simple things like repeating questions and keeping conversations to one person at a time really do make a difference.

4. Be responsive, be ready to learn

Make sure you ask people what they want – and have a budget to be able to get it. Do you know how to find BSL signers,  palantypists, induction loops, live scribes, easy English, audio description? You will need to book ahead as some services get booked up early – and think broadly. For example, Speech To Text on-screen helps those sitting at the back and those who get momentarily distracted as well as deaf people, and it helps you get correct quotes and caption videos too.

5. Think it through

Once you’ve planned out what you are going to do, stop and think. Imagine you are a possible attendee, think about all the stages you might go through. How would you get to know about the event, find out more, book, get there, get around, attend all parts, get refreshments, go to the loo, network, rest and relax, get information and materials, feedback about your experience? What barriers have you discovered by thinking it through? What more can you do to reduce these?

6. Tell them about it

Use your publicity to tell people about what you have on offer – how do you think they are going to get to know otherwise? Add more info on the web if you’ve loads to tell people and give someone a name they can phone or email to find out the answers to specific queries.

7. It’s all in the service and the smile

At any event you need as many well briefed people who are happy to help as you have to hand – when needed (but not so many you end up with people ‘helping’ when its not needed just for something to do!)

8. Money, money, money

Yes, for some elements there will be costs involved, but think about it proportionally – the bigger the event, the more access elements one would expect to find built-in. Its cheaper if you build it in from the start and it helps maximise the audience – both on and offline. There is a cost to not doing it too. Do you want to risk the bad PR?

9. Online access = access for all audiences

Captions on online video footage, transcripts for audio – yes, they support access for some deaf people but also loads of hearing people too who might just want to access your material without sound. (Captions alone won’t help all deaf people – some need British Sign Language interpretation). It all needs to go up at the same time though. Why should someone wait a few days more than everyone else to get the information and missed all the online debate? Plan it in.

10. Follow up and follow through

Ask people how they found the services, the changes – check it out. Don’t just assume that what you provided worked for everyone. Why not set up a tester group to support and advise you?

There is loads of advice and guidance on the internet, depending on the type of event you might be putting on, and for the cultural sector, Shape run excellent courses on planning accessible events – I know because I’ve often delivered them! These can be open sessions or just for for one organisation to focus on a specific event. My favourite one to date was for Artichoke and the team delivering Antony Gormley’s One and Other project on the ’empty’ fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Now that was a fun gig for working out how not to exclude people!

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2 thoughts on “10 steps to creating accessible and inclusive events – real and online

  1. Yes I love all these suggestions… Especially #2 and when you combine #2 with #4 its a winning combination. I have problems processing information quickly and therefore I need time to review a lot of information that comes quickly… I find the written word the best way of access for me

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