As some of you know, I help run Cornish Games. On 10th March, local community leaders in the South West met up to discuss running events in the local area and how to best promote communities to the greater UK. One of the hot topics was improving the accessibility for events – let me share some of those notes with you.
Applying to go
The first thing you need to do as an event organiser is have all the accessibility features and diversity policies easy to find on your events page. I’ve been asked if it’s OK to link to the event spaces’ own webpage about accessibility – but if you do you’re asking potentially people who may find it harder to find out that information because of their needs to do extra research themselves!
You need to be loud and proud about all the features you have available for people. The aim is to allow possible attendees to see that this event is FOR THEM. When I’m looking at an event, it’s the first question I ask “is this event for me?”. For me as a white, technical focused mother, with a few food allergies, of plenty of work experience but time poor – I’m looking at location, price, who else will be there, what I’m going to get from it, how I’m going to be able to bring along my baby, buggy access, quiet area to feed him and allow him to sleep, car access, if there’s going to be a fridge I can put baby milk, if there’s food I’m going to be able to have.. the list goes on. If I can see a list of features I can plan ahead.
Here’s some more things to think about;
- Does your media – photos from previous events and videos – have a diverse range of people? “If I can’t see people like me, I’m not sure the event is for me“
- Do you have free tickets available to those who need it? How about carers? You can allow attendees to donate extra money to go towards people who can’t afford a ticket. Clearly show how much extra money there has been donated, where this extra money goes to and have a charity that any “spare” gets donated to.
- Is there accommodation support, travel support? Perhaps use some of that donation money for those. Also – think about getting a “Diversity Sponsor” whose cash gets ring fenced explicitly for supporting attendees of differing backgrounds and needs.
- Is the event being held at a university? This normally can put me off as it makes it feel like the event is targeted at students, so I wouldn’t get the networking or the learning I’m after personally. For others from different social-economic backgrounds, they could associate universities with places that the rich middle class get to go to – and feel like that they are not welcome.
- There’s times I just can’t go as it’s not practical due to looking after my son – and others may not be able to physically attend too. There’s no reason why we can’t attend virtually though. Online meetings, watching a live stream of each room, submitting questions via online chat, talking with other virtual attendees. We live in a world where we should be cutting down on travel emissions anyway!
- Every event I head to I assume everyone is speaking English. This isn’t necessarily the case and of course – most people in the world don’t speak English. Translate your event information if you can, clearly state the languages talks will be in, and if possible try and work with attendees of other languages to figure out how to allow them equal access to talks and networking opportunities.
- Clearly say who’s allowed – babies up to what age, if guide dogs are allowed, people of different backgrounds, LGBTQ friendly etc.
Wanting to Contribute
There’s two kinds of people that may want to be contributing to your event. The first are helpers that guide people around, translate, sort out tickets etc. These people are doing a job of course – so they should be paid at least minimum working wage. When advertising for these positions you again need to be showing how open you are to a diverse range of applicants, and what accessibility features there will be at the event.
But where you advertise the job is also important. I was in a call the other day when someone said that the job center was used by people who were unskilled. This is completely false and a nasty stereotype created by people in a privileged middle to upper class position. People at the job center are there because they need jobs, and don’t have the savings to not have to worry about how they are going to feed their family and pay the bills – which are normally people of more disadvantaged backgrounds. To get a true range of people you can’t just be looking at students to fill your positions – advertise at the job center and a range of job boards.
As for the content of your talks, you need to be paying for speakers too, along with their accommodation and travel. The reason you pay is to allow those speakers who are not in a economically or time privileged position to be able to come and do a talk. If you don’t pay anyone, not only are you asking for work for free (a bit no no in creative circles), but you are also stopping those from those unprivileged positions from being able to talk as they will not be able to afford to do so. It’s then a self-fulling circle – as those unprivileged speakers then don’t get the credits on the CV they need to show they have done talks elsewhere, which makes them far less likely to get picked to do talks at other events.
Along the lines of experience – you should be trying to get a range of experienced and fresh speakers. As someone who goes to a lot of events, it can be boring listening to the same people so it’s great for your content to hear from someone new! It’s recognizing that we need to be encouraging new voices. Goes as far to offer mentoring, to give people the chance to improve themselves and learn from experienced speakers.
When applying to do a talk – allow speakers to apply however they may wish. I’m dyslexic – so a written application of mine may read a bit oddly, but maybe I would be better at showing my slides. Some may perform much better in a video than on paper.
Simple question – how are people going to attend your event if they have decided to do so in person?
- Is there public transport access? Train, bus, coach. Tell people the closest stops.
- Is there car parking? Is it free and how close is it? If it’s not free, how does payment work? Will it be card or cash? How much will it be for the duration of the event? How full are the spaces normally and are there disabled spaces?
Let’s talk about loo’s first. How about just letting a toilet be a toilet? The only things that we need to know about a loo is if a) there’s a bin for used sanitary products disposal, b) it’s a urinal rather than a loo. You also need to make sure there’s some baby changing facilities for those new parents – some raised, safe surface for little ones and a bin to dispose of the nappies.
As for other baby facilities – make it clear to all attendees that breastfeeding is acceptable to allow mothers to be able to attend, but ideally also offer a more private space for those who feel like they need it. I’ll also be looking at if there’s childcare or a creche available – or will be wanting to know at least what childcare options there are in the immediate area so that I can book something in advance.
Not just babies need naps and quiet time. Plenty of people need a quiet space to escape to for their own reasons. Allow for a quiet area which gives people that space.
A lot of events know to ask up front about food allergies or intolerances. Some people just sometimes don’t like something either! How about just showing what’s on the menu in advance will allow people to prepare alternatives for themselves if they don’t want what they see. Even better would be to allow a small kitchen to be used so people can prepare their own food, sterilize in the microwave their medical equipment, and fridge medical supplies and baby milk.
Free drinks are amazing, but remember that some people don’t have alcohol and others can’t have caffeine. Alcohol should be an option rather than the expectation. Free cocktails? Offer some virgin ones (and remember that food intolerance list for the juices… I can’t have pineapple!). Free wine and beer? There’s loads of alcohol free alternatives. Hot tea and coffee? How about hot chocolate, warm milk, or orange juice.
Of course, wheelchairs and buggies need to be able to access all of your conference too!
How do you approach someone? Which pronouns do you use? What way do they want to be welcomed and do they mind if they have their picture taken? We make a lot of assumptions when networking at events – but wouldn’t it be great if we can just look at someone and know all of those things?
It’s often good practise to already have name-tags for people, but why not add pronouns on those nametags and how people want to be greeted e.g. handshake or hugs. Someone had the great idea of having your standard lanyards and red ones, with the red ones being “don’t photograph me”. On those nametags, allow the socially anxious to be able to use their username, nickname, or no name if they wish – don’t assume everyone wants their registration full name on their nametag.
Naturally – there naturally needs to be a safeguarding policy with no sexual advances allowed within the event, and staff which can be talked to in the event someone feels unsafe.
You’ve prepared a great list of diverse speakers with a large diverse crowd. How do you ensure everyone has a great time and gets the most out of the content? Well the first is not to assume everyone wants to go to the talks! Don’t force people into doing each of the events you are holding. People will attend your event for different reasons, and may have done a large personal outlay in order to get to your event. If people want to carry on networking or exploring a showcase then allow them to.
Keep the front row and exit row of seats free to whoever needs them most. A simple sign asking people to be prepared to give up the seat to those who need it helps. Allow space for wheelchair users to be able to sit where they would wish for the view they need (not just on the front row!).
Have speakers try and judge the skill level of their talks and share that with the attendees. Nothing worse than spending a lot of money to go to a talk, and not have it at the skill level you need in order to learn anything from it.
To allow your speakers to perform to their best ability – offer to not only host the talk on your own, already setup machines, but also for the speaker to use their own laptop. You don’t know what accessibility software they have on their own machine which they need. Also, do make sure you show speaker notes – people do really need them and should not have to be expected to remember their talk.
If you don’t have captions or signers, encourage speakers to try and use the built in auto-captions now found in presentation software. Make sure speakers slides also have a minimum font size and clear contrast.
At the end of your conference, even if you have streamed the content live – make sure to upload the content for free public access afterwards. Being dyslexic I find it very hard to write notes while someone is speaking, and to still be able to read them afterwards!
There’s so many little changes that can be made to an event to make it a lot more accessible to a diverse range of people. The ones I’ve discussed are just the ones that we came up with in the workshop. If one person has had to ask something – tens or hundreds have already looked at your event and thought they couldn’t go! Be open and honest with people on your event page, show yourself as open to suggestions and queries. The more accessible and diverse your event, the more people can go!
If you thought of something I’ve missed – please feel free to contact me!