In events, inclusivity isn't just a buzzword - it's a necessity. Whether you're planning a corporate conference, a music festival, or a community gathering, making sure that everyone can participate fully and comfortably is more important than ever.
Over the past couple of years, we've worked with some of the leaders in the events industry on guidance for making events accessible and more welcoming for attendees and employees, and we've curated their tips below. With National Inclusion Week taking place at the end of September, here's a comprehensive guide to help make sure every event you plan is inclusive!
1. Accessible Event Venues: Best Practices for Inclusive Design
Making sure that everyone can enter and navigate the space sounds like a low bar, but it's not always taken as seriously as it should be. Here's the advice from our contributors on making the physical event space accessible and inclusive.
Physical Barriers: Every attendee should be able to enter and navigate the venue with ease.
- Ensure ramps, elevators, and wide doorways are available.
- Check pathways for obstructions and ensure there's enough space for wheelchairs and mobility devices.
- Accessible toilets and amenities should be available and clearly marked.
Seating Arrangements: Spaces should be reserved for attendees with wheelchairs, and seating should be easily moved to accommodate various needs. Speaker chairs should be the same height, regardless of whether they use a wheelchair or not.
Accessibility Maps: It's recommended that you provide a map of the venue with accessible routes and facilities clearly marked. This could be on an event app, displayed in the venue itself, or printed off for ease for attendees who may need it. This should also be included in email communications about the event and on the website.
Safe Spaces: Offer a quiet space onsite overseen by wellbeing professionals to help those who might be overwhelmed by sensory stimulation at events.
Trained Event Staff: Make sure that all staff at the event have had training in helping attendees with accessibility needs.
"We know what we need to do to take care of ourselves. We don't need you to fix us or do that for us. It's just putting those elements in place so we can do what we need to do to enhance our experience and so that we can connect, participate, and network." Helen Moon, Founder and CEO of EventWell
Take a look at our accessibility content for more in-depth guidance, or look over the resources at the end of this article for more guidance on minimum standards.
2. Digital Inclusivity: Web and App Accessibility
Your event starts long before the event date - in fact, from the moment your attendees first hear about it, you want to make sure it's accessible and inclusive to all of them. Here are some factors to bear in mind:
Website Accessibility: Your event website should ensure that everyone, including those with visual or auditory impairments, can access information. You can use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to help guide this.
Mobile Apps: If you have an event app, ensure it's compatible with voiceover and screen reader technologies.
Registration and Ticketing: The process should be straightforward and accessible, without lengthy forms. Alternative options, like registering over the phone or by email, should be available for those who might face challenges with online forms.
3. Inclusive Communication at Events: Sign Language, Captioning, and More
On-site, there are many considerations to make sure your event is welcoming to all. Here are some areas to consider when planning the event itself.
Real-time captioning services: Events with panels and seminars should include closed captioning as standard. This allows everyone to follow along, especially in noisy environments or large auditoriums.
Hiring qualified sign language interpreters: For attendees who are deaf or hard of hearing, having sign language interpreters can make a world of difference.
Inclusive signage and communications: Wayfinding and event comms should be accessible to those with visual impairments. Here are some tips to make communications more readable:
- Make sure that signage and slides have a background hue and high colour contrast to help those with visual impairments.
- Use minimum size 14 font for event communications as standard.
- Don't rely on colour to emphasise the key points in emails, or on event schedules.
4. Neurodiversity at Events: Sensory Considerations for All Attendees
Not all disabilities are visible, and there are ways to make neurodiverse attendees feel more included and welcomed at your event. Here are some of the key tips from our contributors.
Quiet zones and sensory-friendly spaces: For attendees who might get overwhelmed by noise or crowds, having a quiet space can be invaluable. EventWell provides these spaces, as well as advice on planning inclusive events.
Lighting and sound adjustments: Flashing lights or loud noises can be distressing for some. Ensure there are areas where lighting and sound are moderated.
Provide clear guidelines and schedules: For attendees with autism or other neurodiverse conditions, having a clear, predictable schedule can help them prepare and feel comfortable.
Check out our discussion with 4 industry inclusion experts all about making event spaces more accessible for attendees with invisible disabilities.
5. Ensuring a Diverse Line-up at Events
Representation goes a long way in helping people to feel included at an event. And with audiences choosing to attend events where they feel welcomed, ensuring diversity in event line-ups is not just the right thing to do; it's essential for the event's relevance, reach, and impact.
Diverse speakers: If you're organising a panel discussion, having panellists or key note speakers that reflect a whole range of experiences is important to bringing different perspectives into the conversation. Events should be a chance to learn from others and come away with new understandings.
Check out organisations like Diverse Speaker Bureau to source speakers from all different backgrounds for events.
6. Catering to Dietary and Cultural Needs
Dietary and cultural considerations play a pivotal role in event planning, and accommodating various dietary restrictions is essential to ensure every attendee feels valued and respected.
Consider dietary needs: Offering a range of food options such as vegan, gluten-free, halal, and kosher can make a big difference to making everyone feel welcome. Remember to have plenty of non-alcoholic options available to drink.
Acknowledge religious observances: Providing prayer rooms or being aware of fasting periods may make people feel more able to participate in the event.
7. Communicating Accessibility Measures to Attendees
Most importantly, make sure you communicate with your attendees. Providing information before the event gives guests an opportunity to plan their day before they arrive and will give attendees a huge amount more confidence in attending your event.
Accessibility map: Send out an easily-readable map of the event floor before the event starts, and label it with specific areas such as accessible toilets, quiet rooms, and help stations.
Schedule and sensory warnings: Share the full event schedule with guests prior to their arrival and let them know if there are likely to be flashes or loud noises during certain sessions. This gives guests the knowledge they need to look after themselves on the day.
Safe spaces and on-site help: Let attendees know where they can go on site for a quiet rest and reset, and where they can find people to help them with any difficulties they may encounter.
Inclusive language: Make sure everyone feels that they'll be welcomed on-site, by providing communication that respects and acknowledges all identities, backgrounds, and experiences.
8. Improving Event Accessibility: Gathering and Implementing Feedback
It's vital that event organisers look for feedback from attendees, and use it to make events more welcoming for all.
Gathering feedback: Use surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews to understand the attendee experience. You could ask attendees at the event to fill out a quick survey or email round an event experience form after the day.
Implementing changes: Once you've gathered feedback, make necessary adjustments and ensure you communicate these changes to attendees for future events. There's no shame in admitting that you've done things wrong in the past, as long as you make the effort to improve next time round.
"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
Planning an inclusive event isn't just about checking boxes. It's about creating an environment where everyone feels valued, heard, and accommodated. Of course, accessibility and inclusion don't happen overnight but by following these guidelines, you're on your way to hosting an event that truly welcomes everyone.
For more guidance and tips from industry experts, check out our content on inclusive events below!
Get to grips with all around topics diversity and inclusion in events, with tips and guidance from our partners in the field.Read More
Key Resources for Inclusive Events
There are plenty of resources available to guide us in hosting more inclusive events. Some notable ones are:
- AccessAble - A guide to venue accessibility across the UK and Ireland.
- Attitude Is Everything - Enhancing live music experiences for the deaf and disabled.
- Braille Signs - Venue signage in Braille.
- Braille Works - Services for Braille transcription in the US and Canada, along with text-to-speech.
- Business Disability Forum - Training focused on business and recruitment accessibility.
- Disability Rights UK - Guidance and tools for the UK's disabled community.
- Diversity Alliance - Advocates for diversity and inclusion, especially in events.
- Eventwell - Offers training on awareness and quiet zones for events.
- Equality and Human Rights Commission - Reference for safeguarding attendee rights.
- Event First Steps - Assisting newcomers in the event sector.
- KUDO - Services for live captioning.
- Interprefy - Live captioning services.
- Mobiloo: Portable accessible toilets and changing areas for outdoor events.
- My Clear Text - Live event captioning.
- Purple Tuesday - Champions for disabled people in retail environments.
- Royal National Institute of Blind People - Support and guidance for the blind and visually challenged.
- Royal National Institute for Deaf People - Advocacy for the deaf and those with hearing impairments.
- Scope - Resources promoting a fairer society.
- Sociability App - Helps people with disabilities find accessible venues.
- Spectrum Speakers & Entertainers - Highlights diverse speakers and artists.
- Stress Matters - Training on mental health and workplace wellbeing.
- Wayfindr - Audio-guided navigation for the blind or visually impaired.
Jessamy channels her passion for sustainability and cultural events into shining a spotlight on innovation and inspiration in the events world, and heading up Hire Space's sustainability committee.
With a history in events and academic research, Meg works as a sustainability consultant at The Bulb Eco, helping event organisers improve on sustainability, inclusivity and accessibility.
With a varied background in live events and production, Jade's delved into numerous facets of the entertainment industry, as an events organiser and advocate for disability awareness.
Lizzy is the founder of Oddity Events and an advocate for inclusive event design. She has presented at major conferences on the obstacles faced by individuals with disabilities at B2B events.
Isaac Harvey MBE
Born with a condition that stops limbs developing, over the years, Isaac has served as an ambassador for various charities, and received numerous awards (including an MBE) for his achievements.
As Purpose and Impact Manager at KERB, and Co-founder of Event First Steps and Diverse Speaker Bureau, Priya brings a passion for inclusion and equal access in events to the table.
With a four-decade-long career in marketing and events, in 2017 Helen founded EventWell Ltd, the industry's trusted source for creating neuroinclusive and mentally supportive environments.
As the Founder of Diversity Alliance and Co-founder of the Diverse Speaker Bureau, Gabrielle champions diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility in events.