Whether you are putting on a large conference or a small meeting, virtual or in person, you should consider the needs of the people who may attend with seen or hidden disabilities. When putting on events think about how you make them accessible to all from start to finish.
Some of the content in this guide is focussed on good practice etiquette for virtual meetings, while much of the pre-event and post-event activity applies to good communication practices no matter a virtual or in person event.
As with most things, preparation is key, for both you and your attendees. To make an event more accessible, doing a lot in advance lays great groundwork for everyone to have a good day. Not only do you have slightly less to worry about on the day but so does your audience.
Many disabled users, particularly for in-person events need to meticulously plan their attendance, whether this be because of challenges for disabled users with public transport, medication requirements, or things like fatigue or overstimulation. Providing good information in advance can help your attendees plan their attendance easier.
Communications and promotional channels
What promotional and social media channels are you using to promote your event and how are you making that content accessible.
- Information on the website – Is there a page on your event website where you explain your provisions for access needs?
- Colours – Does digital content and flyers/posters use well contrasting colours (e.g. light text on a dark background or dark text on a light background) and in a readable sans-serif font?
- Large print – Can you make some large print versions of print material, and does digital material work with magnification or larger text sizes?
- Print materials – Make poster graphics clear and provide URLs to accessible web content alternatives. You can also use things like QR codes which are great for some users, if they know the code is there.
- Social media - Remember to capitalise each word on a hashtag such as #AccessibleEvents. This helps screen readers say the hashtag in a more natural way. For all social media content as with any web content, make sure you have alternative text descriptions for images, good colour contrast, captions for video etc.
- Newsletters - Are you using a mailing list service like Mailchimp? Mailchimp allows you to send designed html emails. If you are using their standard templates this may impose some formatting that makes your communications inaccessible. You will need to consider this or have someone test your template for accessibility before sending.
- Emails - Are you using standard email? Standard email can often be one of the most accessible communication channels if you are keeping it simple. When using standard email, think about how you present links, alt text for images, and the colours you use.
Accessible sign up
Making the sign up process accessible is important as well as pointing out levels of accessibility and support is important to supporting attendees with access needs.
Sign up platforms – If you are using internal forms or 3rd party sign up platforms, you need to make sure that the platforms are accessible so anyone can sign up. If there are issues with your chosen platform, provide an alternative route such as being able to email you to sign up instead.
3rd party platforms – event platforms such as Eventbrite often have accessibility advice and try to make their platforms accessible while providing advice as to how you can make your content on their platform accessible. Eventbrite have accessibility guidance for their platform if you are unsure.
Disability support - Be explicit about accessibility arrangements to make people feel included. For example:
- Personal assistant or companion welcome
- Guide dogs and assistance dogs welcome
- Fine to leave and re-enter the venue as needed etc.
- Ask delegates, staff and speakers to communicate their access requirements (and those of anyone accompanying them) to you in pre-event communications so you are better able to prepare and respond to requests
Presentations and slides
- Speaker guidance – Tell speakers to make their slides accessible in advance, and provide them with advice on what you want in terms of accessibility.
- Information in advance – Send slides and other information out in advance. This allows time for users with visual impairment, dyslexia or other conditions to have time in advance to familiarise themselves with the content.
- Interactivity – Give attendees a heads up about interactive elements (group discussions, icebreakers etc.) and if there are any services you are using to encourage participation such as online questions submission such as Slido.
Send out travel and parking information with directions on how you reach your venue from major routes car/train/bus etc? For some users, preparation of travel arrangements may be crucial. We try to think about the questions below:
- Is there accessible parking? If yes, how many spaces?
- Do people need to book parking in advance? What evidence if any do they need (for example a blue badge)
- How far is it from the car park to the venue?
- What is the most accessible place for taxis to set down?
- How accessible is the nearest train station or bus stop and the route from there to the venue?
Send out venue access information and facilities information in advance. For some users, knowing that there will be their required facilities at the venue may be crucial. We aim for information for the following list:
- Accurate and detailed descriptions of access (if there are steps, how many? How steep? If there is a lift what’s the maximum weight it can bear? Width of doorways?)
- Designated quiet room/respite space?
- Refreshments provided or can they be brought into all spaces?
- Storage facilities for any medications/equipment?
- Nearest accessible toilets/changing places toilet/gender neutral toilet?
- Will there be any queuing to access the venue? Is there a way that those unable to queue can jump the queue and let you know in advance? Consider those who have difficulty standing for extended periods.
- Is seating available in foyer spaces and low tables for buffets?
If presentations are recorded for sharing afterwards, remember that under the regulations, for new videos you need to provide captions, transcripts and audio descriptions where necessary.
Read our guide on Captions and transcripts for use in content.
If presentation materials such as slides are going to be available after the event, make sure that all materials have been made as accessible as possible. Part of this should be done already if you asked presenters to adhere to accessibility guidelines when creating there slides as part of the pre-event comms.
Where can users get access to photos from the day. Were they shared on a particular hashtag or are they posted on a blog or image library. Let users know and make sure that images that go out in post-event comms have alternative text descriptions.
Post-event written comms
If you are sending out follow up emails, html newsletters or other post event communications remember that these need to follow all good practice accessible content guidance including:
- Hierarchical heading structures
- Descriptive link texts
- Image alternative text descriptions
- Correct use of lists
- Colour contrast requirements
- Layout good practice
If you are asking attendees to provide feedback on an event, do you have specific questions asking about their experience of the accessibility?
Ideally you should ask as part of the feedback what they thought, good or bad. Were all their access needs met, if not, why not? And then once you have this feedback what are you going to do about it? Can you reach out to the attendee for further comment, or how are you going to incorporate those requirements into future events?
Before you respond effectively to accessibility feedback you need to collect that feedback. Make sure that whatever survey platform you are using can be completed by users with a range of access needs. Most survey platforms can deliver relatively accessible survey forms if built correctly so take the time to test with keyboard only, with a screen reader and dictation tools, and follow best practice for the various survey platforms to try and ensure people can complete your feedback form.
Post-event comms checklist
We use the below checklist when completing events, just to help us remember the accessibility requirements and make sure we have covered everything we want to say.
All presentations recorded for sharing afterwards with full captions and transcripts to support users with a range of impairments
Are you giving people an opportunity to feed back on their accessibility experience as well as the content? Do you have a process for following up on any complaints/negative or positive comments on access?
Are your post event communications accessible? If there is video content shared, is it captioned? If there are post event photos shared, are they described with caption and alt text?
What are you going to communicate after the event?
- Access to photos?
- Video content?
- Access to all presentations and materials from the day?
- Outcomes and what happens next?
On the day you have a number of areas that could cause accessibility issues such as the venue and catering, the content, and guidance from your staff helping on the day.
Most unique challenges for in person events occur around things like physical movement around a space, catering and allergies, health, safety, and hygiene.
Venue and facilities
When picking a venue and planning support for on the day, we like to use the following checklist to make sure we are picking spaces that can support all attendees. This is especially important for larger venues or multi-day events.
Accessible toilets and access – Accessible toilets are a must have. Do all those staffing the event know where they are and are they clearly signposted?
Supplies for guide/assistance dogs – Including water bowl, additional waste bags and designated toileting and roaming space during breaks. Ideally a green space somewhere near the venue and all event staff can direct or accompany guests with dogs.
Braille/large print – Agendas, menus, and signage to enable visually impaired attendees to participate. This can also be partly supported in the pre-event comms by having accessible digital copies of agendas and menus.
Storage facilities for medications/ equipment – Especially important for all day or multi-day events. For any attendees that have to carry medication or lots of equipment, event if they have travelled far and just have luggage, a secure storage space can make the day so much easier on attendees.
Designated quiet spaces – These can be used for several purposes. Delegates may need a space to:
- Get away from a too stimulated environment (noise, crowds)
- Observe religious practices (pray)
- Any number of other reasons. It’s very useful to have somewhere to direct people for privacy.
Food and Catering
- Emergency supplies – In addition to planned refreshments if you have attendees who might have diabetic requirements.
- Food labelled clearly - For those with allergies/ intolerances. Make sure this information is also available in the offered alternative formats and try (as much as possible) to have staff know in advance or know where to check if someone has an allergy question.
- Straws available on request – While plastic straws are no longer a thing, some users such as those that might have a mobility impairment may benefit from a straw. Paper or bamboo straws are great in an emergency.
- Braille/large print – Agendas, menus, and signage to enable visually impaired attendees to participate. This can also be partly supported in the pre-event comms by having accessible digital copies of agendas and menus.
Much of the content work can be completed as part of the pre-event preparations. But there are some aspects for on the day that you need to consider how it will work.
- Captions and transcript – BSL interpretation can sometimes be too pricey for some smaller events. As a minimum can you use live captioning for Deaf or hard of hearing (HoH) attendees present? This can also be used for generating transcripts of talks for use afterwards. The latest version of PowerPoint has live transcription functionality included. Alternatively, you can use products like Otter.ai on a second screen for live transcription.
- Presentations – Slides should have all been made accessible so that they work with screen readers, use plain English and have clear notes to support explanation. Especially important for the in-person presentation, check for contrast or text size issues.
- Engagement – If you have question and answer sessions, think of having a way for people to suggestion questions online. Not everyone is able to ask the question out loud. Think about using platforms such as Slido for Q&A and polling audiences.
- Recording or live streaming – What options are available to make the event hybrid so those who may not be able to attend physically can still gain the benefit of the event, and if coupled with online platforms such as Slido (mentioned above) can even take part in the event live.
On the day you have considered the venue, the food, and the content, but there is another important aspect to attendees experience and that is your event staff. We use the following checklist to help ensure that staff helping with the event offer an accessible and supportive experience and properly represent our values.
- British Sign Language – Learning a few basic responses for BSL can help staff support Deaf and HoH attendees for non-presentation related interactions eg. toilet directions, talks starting soon, other FAQs. There are cheap courses to get people started such as the British-sign.co.uk Introducing BSL course. Or you can teach staff as a group and encourage practice over the weeks before.
- Easy to identify – Are staff and volunteers easily identifiable (coloured and labelled t-shirts, badges etc, and have you told attendees how to contact staff?
- Other support features – Is there a designated help desk so there is a consistent place to go get help? Could you provide a contact numbers for the day so people can ring if they get lost, stuck etc.
- Terminology and conduct – Do all staff know current acceptable terminology surrounding disability and the Do’s and Don’ts such as not to push for evidence of a requirement, or to physically move disabled users without their request or consent. Do they know who to ask if they come across a situation they don’t feel confident to resolve?
- Support on offer – Have you briefed your staff and volunteers on the access requirements you have put in place and on how to respond professionally to a range of additional needs your attendees may have?
- Disabled staff - Do any of your staff have access needs and have you considered these to support them in performing their roles on the day? Are you able to make reasonable adjustments for any disabled people who want to work or volunteer at your event?
We all know about good practice professional behaviour like turning up on time, speaking in a professional way and being required to comment if pets appear on camera. But sometimes expectations for virtual meetings may not always match with what is most conducive to creating an accessible and inclusive environment. The below are a checklist of points we consistently come across in virtual meeting etiquette:
- STOP asking people to put their cameras on! We know that this can be a point of contention for many but enabling people to interact in a way that suits them, whether it is camera on or off can be more inclusive. Many neurodiverse users do not like being on camera and forcing the issue can actually reduce engagement. To be honest, lots of people don’t want to show off their home work space or kitchen all the time. This is why blurred backgrounds were added and became so popular.
- Encourage people to engage in a way that works for them. Some users find coming on the mic especially in larger meetings quite daunting. Encourage people to comment in any way they feel comfortable whether that be through chat or whether that be through voice.
- Let people know about recordings and transcripts. Many virtual meeting platforms can now deliver automated captions or transcripts as well as session recording. If these services are available be prepared to let people know how to access them. If the session is being recorded let people know before you start the recording.
- Think about engagement routes for larger sessions. Sometimes chats can get unwieldy for massive “all staff” meetings and people may not feel comfortable raising concerns in such an open forum. Using anonymous tools like Slido can be useful at filtering popular questions and giving users the option to ask important questions that they may feel uncomfortable to if forced to speak aloud.
When we start meetings, we always encourage people to engage however they want, cameras on or off, and to talk either with voice or chat. It encourages more engagement.