Your conference should be accessible for all of your possible attendees and speakers, including people with disabilities. By preparing for accessibility, you can make it easy for anyone to attend your conference.
Many countries have legal requirements for accessibility. Be sure to follow the laws and policies for your conference location.
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Understanding Types of Needs
Some conference attendees or speakers might have:
- Limited or no vision and need electronic versions of printed materials
- Limited or no hearing and need audio support or sign interpretation
- Limited mobility and need access to the conference facility and rooms
- Learning disabilities and need easy-to-read signs and directions
- Medical conditions (such as diabetes) and need special meals
Consider Other Special Needs
Not all special needs are for people with disabilities. Other types of special needs are:
- Religious observances
Ask About Special Needs and Preferences
Make it easy for your attendees and speakers to let you know that they have special needs.
- Provide fields for special-needs requests in advance-registration websites and forms.
- Include an email address on your conference website. Encourage those with special requests to contact you.
- Ask speakers and participants if they have accessibility requirements.
- Assign someone on your committee to address special-needs requests.
Look for Accessible Conference Locations
When selecting a conference location, ask the facility manager about accessibility. Most venues have solutions available to accommodate guests with special needs.
Be sure to look for the following:
- Availability of disabled parking located close to the major entrance
- A graded or flat entrance
- Proximity of accessible washrooms to your meeting space
- Strategically placed signage
- Accessible sleeping areas
- Elevators with Braille or floor-calling ability
- Availability of a TTY (telephone or telephone typewriter) unit and kit available for people with hearing loss
All areas should have space for individuals with wheelchairs and other mobility devices, but a few particularly important areas to be mindful of are:
- Registration area
- Meeting rooms
- Exhibition halls
- Dining facilities
Include preparations for individuals with disabilities in your emergency and evacuation plans. They may not hear announcements or may need extra time or help to evacuate a room or building.
- Be sure to follow ADA laws when planning your event
- Take into account accessibility (stairs, elevators, ramps for stages) during your site visit, even if you are unsure of the requirements of your participants
- Work with the venue to connect with local vendors for specialized equipment or experts if necessary. ie, (hearing aids, sign language interpreters, service dogs, mobility aids, closed captioning)
- If offering a buffet, have servers available to assist
- Allow for extra capacity and table space to accommodate wheelchairs and assistance animals, including in banquet, reception and meal areas
- Determine the accessibility of any outside entertainment and transportation services offered to participants
- Ask for dietary preferences and restrictions during the registration process
- Be sure to share the feedback you receive with all vendors who will be serving food to your attendees
- Make sure to place visible signage on buffets to highlight possible food allergens
- Note that if an attendee requests a kosher meal, this will need to be ordered in advance as venues do not prepare these in house
Plan for Accessible Speaker Sessions
Speaker sessions should be enjoyable and informative for guests regardless of disabilities or needs. Easy access, an adequate sound system, and good visibility of the speakers ensures they are accessible for all attendees.
- Give speakers accessibility requirements and guidance for preparing slides and for speaking.
- Plan enough time in the schedule, as some people may need extra time to get from room to room.
- Reserve seats at the front of the room for people who need unobstructed views of the speakers or slides.
- Arrange for assisted listening devices (ALDs), hearing loops, or induction loops to amplify sound from the speaker’s microphone.
- Provide sign language interpreters or Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) so that your speakers can be appreciated by all.
- Provide material ahead of time in electronic or large-print format, if requested.
- Contact registrants by phone or email to review and confirm special accommodations
- Establish an emergency response plan for individuals with disabilities