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What Does Event Accessibility Look Like in 2021

Accessible events must offer the same experience to everyone. Any event you host should always be designed so that all attendees, including those with disabilities and impairments, can fully participate. Here are some best practices for event organizers to consider.

Planning the Event

For both in-person and virtual events, ask guests about accommodations right away so you can plan well in advance. Include a question in the registration form asking if the attendee will need an accommodation. You can also provide an email address where people can contact you if they require any accommodations.

Another approach is to include a checklist in the registration form. Here’s an example from Cornell University:

I will need the following accommodations to participate:

  • Assistive listening device
  • Closed captioning
  • Reserved front row seat
  • Large print
  • Advance copies of slides to be projected
  • Wheelchair access
  • Dietary restrictions. List: _________
  • Other: ________________________

If you can’t meet a specific request, ask the guest if alternative arrangements can be made.

Ever since the widespread shift to online events, making sure your technology works is more important than ever. Tell people ahead of time what platform you’ll be using. This lets attendees do a test run to make sure their computer equipment is compatible. Most platforms also offer accessibility settings that let people personalize their experience to their individual needs.

Another smart step is making your presenters aware of the accommodations you’ll be making. This gives them a chance to provide a better presentation and a better experience for attendees. Ask them to use contrasting colors on their slides and to describe the content out loud. It’s also great to have them repeat questions from the audience so everyone can hear.

And finally, check the venue for these features:

  • Clear signage, well-lit spaces, and visible projection screen(s).
  • Public address system, roving microphone, seating close enough for lip reading, and available assistive listening devices.
  • Accessible parking, nearby public transportation stations, ramps, elevators, accessible bathrooms, doorways and aisles wide enough for wheelchairs and scooters, and secured floor cables.
  • Electrical outlets for mobile devices in accessible seating areas.
  • Accommodations for service animals, including comfortable spaces, nearby toilets, and water facilities.
During the Event

Select someone on your staff to help with seating, checking technology, maintaining clear pathways, and other accommodation needs as they come up.

Providing closed captions for your sessions whether they're live or recorded not only makes the content accessible for individuals with hearing loss, but it also offers a better user experience for everyone because captions help with engagement and focus. If you have non-native English speakers in the audience, captions can help them fully understand key concepts.

Food allergies and other dietary restrictions are often overlooked. If you provide food at your event, either ask ahead of time about specific accommodations or clearly indicate allergens and other dietary options. Keep the food on low tables so everyone can reach. You can also have staff members serve people at their seats.

Legal Considerations

Event accessibility is important not only from a business perspective, but also from a legal standpoint. Most countries have laws and policies that specify what accommodations must be followed.

In the United States, for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Even though it was intended to apply to physical structures, the ADA has extended to the online world as well. If your event is completely virtual, you’ll also want to get familiar with the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The Laws and Policies page on the Web Accessibility Initiative website has a list of all countries where the national web accessibility regulations are based on WCAG.

WCAG has three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Level A in the minimum standard of conformance and Level AAA is the maximum. Most organizations set their standards at AA because it’s both achievable and meaningful without disrupting the design and development process.

Ungerboeck aims for AA level compliance for all our products. We complete Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) documentation for several of our solutions, including Registration, Session Proposals, the Event Portal, and Online Space Booking.

Make a list of all the things you’ll need to look for to make sure the event is legally compliant and inclusive for everyone. As you learn, add to the checklist. Event accessibility gets easier as you host more events. Another thing you can do is include an accessibility policy in your FAQs. This makes it easy for people to know what to expect and sends a message that you’re being proactive.

Organizing an accessible event can seem daunting, but it creates a better experience for your entire audience. After all, event planning comes down to one thing: Showing your guest a good time.