Planning an Event? Here's How to Make It Inclusive

Barbie Lopez, digital accessibility consultant

Barbie Lopez, digital accessibility consultant

Eric Bell, program coordinator for physical access

Eric Bell, program coordinator for physical access

This is the first of three stories covering the Inclusive and Accessible Design workshop series presented by University Libraries and the Disability Resource Center.

The two presentations in the series – "Planning Events for Everyone" on Jan. 29, "Creating Content for Everyone" on March 12, aim to provide information and resources on creating experiences that are accessible and inclusive.

The second story in the series was published in mid-March.

Finding a venue and sending out invitations are key components to planning an event, but there's much more to consider, especially when it comes to making sure everyone feels welcome and included.

Can everyone get to your event using the same route and entrances? Is there accessible parking nearby? Are your invitations readable or viewable to everyone? Can everyone hear and clearly see the presentation?

The Disability Resource Center's Eric Bell, program coordinator for physical access, and Barbie Lopez, digital accessibility consultant, covered these topics to illustrate best practices for making any event – including lectures, screenings, or interactive presentations – available and inviting to as many as possible.

Accessible versus inclusive

"Accessible" and "inclusive" do not mean the same thing when it comes to planning events. Being accessible, Bell said, refers to adhering to the minimum accessibility requirements. Being inclusive, he said, involves providing an experience that works for as many as possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Instead of thinking in terms of what event planners are required to do, "what we like to ask here on campus is more a question of 'What can we do?,'" Bell said. "That's above and beyond, providing an inclusive experience. It just represents an extra level of thought and effort and it can go a long way toward making everyone feel welcome at your event, not just people with disabilities."

Pick the right venue

Ensuring physical access for all event attendees starts with picking the right location, Bell said. That involves considering what type of room layout will work best, and whether it will work for everyone for all planned activities.

"You want to think about where the specific elements of your event are going to be within the venue," Bell said, referring to activities like group discussions, which may require attendees to move around or gather in small groups.

Other things to consider when choosing your event location, Bell said, include:

  • Whether the layout of the venue is appropriate. If an event involves an audience discussion that may require moving around, it's probably best to avoid tiered or sloped rooms. A list that describes all centrally scheduled rooms (PDF) on campus is available online.
  • Parking availability, particularly for those needing handicapped-accessible spaces. Refer to this Parking & Transportation Services map for handicapped-accessible spaces around campus.
  • The routes to and through your event. Ensure whenever possible that all attendees can use the same entrance and same registration area.
  • Restroom locations. Because some campus buildings close their restrooms during certain times of day, it's important to know whether restrooms will be available during your event. Some events, particularly those on the Mall, may require portable restrooms. Bell suggests reaching out to the Disability Resource Center for more information about accessible restrooms.

Follow good marketing practices

There are a lot of ways to market an event to increase turnout, and accessible and inclusive marketing practices should be in the mix, Lopez said. Here are tips to make commonly used marketing tools – websites, flyers, email invitations and registration links – work for as many people as possible:

  • Label images and PDFs with alternative text, which can be done in software like Microsoft Word. And if a PDF, such as a flyer, is being sent as an email attachment, it's also good practice to include the information that's in the PDF in the body of the email.
  • Provide clear destinations for hyperlinks by avoiding wording such as "click here." A better option is to use specific wording that relates to the purpose of the link, such as "register here."
  • Because some people have difficulty perceiving color, always use good color contrast to ensure as many as possible can clearly see your messaging.
  • Include an accessibility statement on marketing materials, referring potential attendees to a point of contact to make requests for disability-related accommodations. The Disability Resource Center can help with crafting accessibility statements.

Use inclusive language

Bell says choosing the right wording for marketing materials or event signage can go a long way in making attendees feel welcome. The word "accessible," he said, is almost always a better alternative to "handicapped" or "special needs/accommodations." He also advises against using the term "wheelchair bound." Other good terms are "disability-related accommodations" and "wheelchair users."

The Disability Resource Center can provide advice on inclusive signage for events.

Ensure accessible presentations

If your event involves a presentation that you plan to make available later, take care when creating it in order to ensure it will be accessible to everyone, Lopez said. When using PowerPoint, she advises using only the program's default slide templates and layouts.

"It's pretty tricky because a lot of times, you want to add your own text boxes, as well, to add more information," she said. But those added text boxes are not accessible and will not work with assistive technology, she explained. More information on accessibility with Microsoft Office software is available on the IT Accessibility website.

Like with marketing materials, it's also good to use alternative text for images as well as good color contrast in presentation slides. Providing handouts, such as copies of slide decks or other documents that complement a presentation or activity, in a digital form is also helpful for those who use assistive technology.

If a presentation uses video, it's always a good idea to check the video before the event to make sure it is captioned, Lopez said, even if no one requested captioning. It's also important to know the difference between a captioned video and an auto-captioned video. Automatic captioning, used on sites such as YouTube, cannot be relied upon to be accurate. More information on captioning, including UA standards on captioning and guides to do it yourself, is available on the IT Accessibility website.

Other presentation tips offered by Lopez include:

  • Speak clearly and use language that most people understand.
  • Be visible. Those who are hard of hearing may need to see a person speak to understand the message.
  • Use a microphone and ensure that all relevant sound is audible through the sound system. Repeat questions from audience members who are not using a microphone.
  • Describe any visual information that is part of the presentation.

Follow up after the event

When the event is over, Bell suggests following up with attendees to see how the event went, and particularly to collect feedback on disability-related accommodations. Also ensure that the follow-up materials are accessible as well.

For more information about planning inclusive events, visit the Disability Resource Center's website, which includes a page dedicated to accessible event planning.

The slide deck from "Planning Events for Everyone" is available on Box with a NetID login. A Zoom recording of the presentation is available via Panopto.

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