At Hire Space's Let's Do London stage at International Confex, we hosted an important session on the future of accessibility in events and how we can play our part as organisers and venues.
For this session we welcomed Isaac Harvey, Video Editor, President of Wheels and Wheelchairs and ambassador for Purple Tuesday, Catherine Owen, Head of Venue Sales, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, and Lizzy Eaton, Founder, Oddity Events & Marketing. Read on below for our key takeaways from the session.
Think about everyone's event journeys
Accessibility in events is a non-negotiable in this day and age. Ensuring all delegates have the same positive experience at an event isn't difficult and certainly doesn't cost the earth, so we must all be thinking more carefully about how we can improve in these areas.
Disabled people don't want to be reminded at every turn that they have a disability, so it's important to create a positive, inclusive experience for everyone, not just those with differences. See them as a person first, their disability second.
For example, instead of just adding an entry ramp for wheelchair users, change the whole event design so that everyone has a positive entrance experience. Will wheelchair users be able to use the front door? Is the venue big enough for wheelchairs to comfortably turn? Are there accessible toilets? Is there a lift to all floors? Look at the whole venue and see the journey from start to finish.
"There isn't an end destination with accessibility. It's a journey, realising we're always going to be learning, making mistakes, and getting better." Isaac Harvey
What can venues do?
As far as event design goes, the onus is largely on venues to ensure they're considerate of different needs and that every single attendee feels included.
As well as stair and lift access, venues must consider things like wayfinding, signage, and size/positioning of door handles and buzzers. If the event has a panel discussion where one speaker is a wheelchair user, make sure the chairs are all on the same level, rather than having stools for the non-wheelchair users which would make them sit higher. These are small changes that can be covered by an annual management budget and can make a real difference.
Staff confidence and training is also important so people know how to handle certain situations, such as approaching a guide dog, or providing a space for someone who might be neurodiverse. Again, these venue changes are cheap to do and could make such a huge difference to someone attending your event.
A powerful tool is to listen to feedback - ask the audience during the event or in a post-event survey about their experience and glean their insights. You can also arrange for an accessibility audit for your venue from companies like Access For All UK, which will help you cover all bases.
What can organisers do?
Work with the venue and ask questions about what initiatives the venue has in place. It's also a good idea to make sure your team (who is planning the event) is diverse, as this will bring perspectives you may not have previously considered.
It's paramount as an organiser that you practice what you preach. It's one thing to have diverse panels at events, and for an event to look inclusive from the outside, but if it's not truly inclusive behind the scenes then it's pointless. Isaac gave an example of an experience he once had at a fashion show as part of London Fashion Week. The event was diverse in terms of the models on the runway, but Isaac, who is a wheelchair user, had to overcome all sorts of challenges just to get into and around the venue during the event.
Ultimately, it's the responsibility of every individual to support and coach each other through the accessibility journey, so work together and be open to change.
There are also many organisations that are able to help you make impactful changes at all stages of the journey; you can find a list of a few of them below. One organisation of particular note is Purple Tuesday, of which Isaac himself is an ambassador. This is a fantastic programme aiming to improve the customer experience for disabled people. Their website offers free resources and plenty of practical advice on how people can get involved.
What does a good experience look like when it comes to accessibility?
A good experience comes from being understanding, considerate, and trying to foster an equal experience for everyone. Isaac recalled an event he attended that was truly inclusive and created a positive atmosphere for all attendees. At this event, there were lifts to all event areas, captions, sign language interpreters (in different sign languages), and audio description for those that needed it. This is an example of a well-thought-through, accessible event.
The power of hybrid also has a role to play here to ensure attendees who don't feel comfortable or able to attend in-person don't get left behind and can still engage with the event. It's about providing the same opportunity for everyone.
Resources for event organisers
There are many great resources available to help us make our events more inclusive. A few include:
- Diversity Ally. This is the first organisation within the events industry committed to helping improve diversity and inclusion across events and the wider industry.
- Purple Tuesday. As mentioned above, Purple Tuesday is a fantastic resource for learning more about how you can make your customer experience accessible and inclusive.
- Spectrum Speakers & Entertainers. This is a great platform for championing speakers and performers from underrepresented groups.
- Attitude Is Everything. This is a great resource tool to improve deaf and disabled people's access to live music.
- Equality and Human Rights Commission. This is a really useful reference tool on the guiding principles to make sure you’re respecting the rights of every attendee.
- Wayfindr. An amazing non-profit organisation that helps blind or partially sighted people navigate indoor environments through the use of audio navigation.
- Braille Works. This company offers Braille transcription services and would allow venues to easily implement Braille on wayfinding and signage.
As an industry, we must continuously improve in order to make our events more accessible to all, and we hope this piece encourages you to do so! Find accessible venues by speaking to a member of our team below.
Next, read the key takeaways from all the sessions on our stage at International Confex.