Meetings Canada


POWER POINTS: Accessible and Inclusive - Organizing events for persons with disabilities


Professional event planners have a responsibility—beyond simply a legal one—to ensure that their events are accessible and inclusive to all potential attendees, including the 14.3 per cent of Canadians who report having a disability, both visible and non-visible. Here are eight considerations and resources that will assist the professional planner when executing an “accessible and inclusive” event.

1) Discuss, Assess and Collaborate at the Start
Accessibility and inclusiveness for a person with a disability need to be addressed collaboratively between the planner and key stakeholders at the beginning of the event-planning journey. Proactively assessing the range of possible challenges, such as identifying disabilities, venue accessibility issues, dispelling attitude barriers, and boosting Accessibility Customer Service Standards, are key components. Consider consultations with accessibility professionals to assess barriers and/or work on providing solutions and remediation plans.

2) Do Your Research
In Canada, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides a framework on disability definitions and guiding principles for communication, language, reasonable accommodation of needs, universal design and guiding principles. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is the most stringent piece of accessibility legislation in the world and provides an excellent reference. Planners should investigate regional frameworks such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

3) Understand and Identify Disabilities
The UN Convention describes persons with disabilities as those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Disabilities fall into a few broad categories: visible and non-visible, as well as permanent, temporary and the severity of the disability. Understanding the various disabilities is key to understanding the potential and real barriers presented to attendees during an event.

4) Choose a Venue and Accommodations With Accessibility in Mind
The following considerations hint at the range of factors that should be top of mind when scoping meeting space or accommodations: suitable quiet/chill rooms; washroom adaptations considering gender identity issues, as well as physical needs; check-in solutions such as lower counters; safety procedures including alerts (ie., strobe lights) in rooms for hearing impaired, evacuation procedures printed in Braille and large print; availability of mobility scooters and wheelchairs; seating plans for wheelchairs and ramps for staging; and considerations for accessible and sometimes customizable food and beverage service.

5) Consider Your Transportation Requirements
In addition to the responsibilities of scoping suitable venues, planners should also give consideration to the transportation needs of their client. Wheelchair accessibility, special transfer vehicles, reserved parking spaces posted with proper international symbols, ramps into venues, handrails, non-slip surfaces, electronic doors are all solutions to accessibility barriers.

6) Be Mindful of Attitudes and Vocabulary 
Attitudes are portrayed through vocabulary, body language, mood, etc. Educating and training staff to carefully use appropriate language is of utmost importance—i.e. person with disability, rather than disabled person. Addressing the person directly while speaking slowly, listening carefully, repeating any instructions that you receive and respecting the individual are critical. Ask questions: How may I help you? May I be of assistance?

7) Create a Customized Customer Service Plan
A solid Accessible Customer Service Plan complements and supports your endeavours. Ensuring that your entire event team is trained and familiar with assistive devices, able to communicate appropriately about individual needs, welcoming of accompanying persons and comfortable with unexpected disruptions to services or facilities, is providing service with excellence!

8) When in Doubt, Research or Reach Out
The Internet provides a host of documents that will complement the planner’s scope of considerations. Accessibility for persons with disability subject matter experts are available nationwide. Government websites such as Human Resources and Skills Development Canada are good resources. Colleagues and local associations are also excellent sources. In addition, we believe that it is professional and respectful to seek guidance and wise counsel directly from our clients—ultimately making sure that our event management plans are congruent with their needs!

Heather E. Reid, ARCT, MSc, is principal planner and owner of Innovative Conferences & Communications and Marilyn Dalzell, CMP, is managing director, Dalzell Meetings & Events. They can be reached at and respectively.

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