12 tips to make events more accessible and inclusive

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Accessibility is a frequent topic of conversation nowadays. Whether you’re hosting a small meeting or a major conference, including accessibility in your planning ensures that all attendees have a positive and inclusive experience.

But what exactly is accessibility, and why is it important? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the definition of accessibility is accomodating the needs of people with disabilities when planning or designing. This means that services and establishments are adapted for the use of everyone, including those with impairments or physical limitations.

When it comes to accessibility for events, the key is to create an environment where everyone can fully participate and engage from the start. In general, persons with disabilities (PWDs) have to go to extra lengths to access information and resort to seeking help from others. Make it easier for them by including accessibility information in the design of your notice or invitation.

Here at Canva, we continue to take action in championing diversity and inclusion in graphic design. We’ve created invitation templates that have accessibility and inclusive copy. These layouts have ready information, such as wheelchair accessibility, guide dog rules, or live captioning services. Taking into account these simple things can ultimately help PWDs be as independent, self-sufficient, and dignified as possible, just like everyone else.

During this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), we want to highlight the importance of ensuring PWDs have the same access to information, spaces, and services. Besides offering pre-made accessibility templates, we’ve compiled a list of handy tips on how to make your events more inclusive and accessible.

Before the event

1. Make sure the venue is well-lit.

Consider those who will be affected by strobe lights and dim lights, which can cause problems for those with vision impairments, epilepsy, and those on the spectrum. Provide clear signage pointing directions and identifying locations. Check if projection screens are visible from all seats.

2. Test your venue’s accessibility.

Is there nearby parking or public transit? Is elevator/ramp access provided? Are bathrooms gender neutral and easy to locate? Are there enough electrical outlets for those who need to use laptops and adaptive devices? If a speaker is the one who has a disability, consider doing a dry run of the event so that the appropriate access is available.

3. Make information about accessibility clear in your communications

Adding a simple line like “Our restaurant is wheelchair accessible” lets the PWD community know this important piece of information. This sample template on Canva has the line written in black text on a light background, making it readable and ultimately saving the reader the effort to call or send an inquiry.

As a planner or coordinator, you may also communicate the same message in other ways, like displaying a PWD sticker on your front door or facade. You can also bear in mind color accessibility when crafting your web and social media content to accommodate those with visual limitations.

In one of Canva’s 2020 Design Meets in our Manila office, the text was made available as a selectable text when it was posted on social media. This helps persons who are blind to access information through screen reader applications that read text on their device’s screen out loud.

Icons also help signal available resources and circumstances of your event and locations. Remember to use widely recognized signs for different communities to understand. In the same invite card, we’ve used empowering symbols to communicate that the event is open and accessible for PWD and persons who are blind. Leave room for questions as well. Don’t be afraid to ask the community what they need and receive suggestions directly from them.

4. Avoid imposing overly strict rules and dress codes

Some people on the spectrum get overstimulated with lights and sounds that most consider tolerable. They can easily cope by wearing a cap or headphones, which might go against some norms, but the guest needs them.

5. Consider waiving the entrance fee for at least one companion.

More often than not, the companion is there to assist the guest with a disability.

During the event

1. Address the needs of your guests or attendees.

Your guests or attendees would probably need something during the event to help them settle in and enjoy the program. Special requests may vary for each person and might be a bit tricky to anticipate. Opt to ask them ahead of time and open your communication lines for these concerns or inform them of what’s available through your invites and announcements to manage expectations.

For example, adding a short line like “Sign language interpretation available” immediately informs the Deaf and hard of hearing that they can easily participate and engage in the program.

At Canva's Design Meet, the sign interpreter was seated near the stage.

This sample Canva template features a clean design with that line of text fitting nicely at the bottom. You can use this template as is or customize according to your event’s available resources.

When it comes to catering, consider people’s religious dietary restrictions ahead of time. Include vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free options in your menu, and clearly indicate allergens. For a self-service buffet, provide an option for a server to bring food directly to the table of PWDs.

2. Open accessible communication lines

If the event involves hundreds or thousands of attendees and a significant number of registered guests is from the PWD community, consider placing an “accessibility desk” by the entrance and inform the registered attendees that they may approach it if they encounter any problems. A hotline would be helpful too.

3. Double-check seating options and floor plan or layout

Confirm that persons living with disabilities get priority seating with their companion(s). Pathways should be free from obstructions, with wide doorways and aisles to accommodate wheelchairs, scooters, canes, and service animals.

4. Make sure slides and presentations are accessible

Check if fonts are large enough to be read up to the last row of seats, images are of high quality, and messaging is clear. In this sample presentation template from Canva, the green background provides enough color contrast with the light-colored text. This helps those with low vision, color blindness, and other visual impairments.

The line “Audio descriptions are available” can also let the audience know that the blind community can join the event and be involved. Thanks to audio narrations, they can visualize what is happening in a video or slide deck.

You can also think about providing alternative sources such as real-time video streaming and printouts with large fonts or braille. Or, whenever possible, ask if the speaker can share a copy of their deck before or after their talk.

5. Plan and execute inclusive activities

Make sure ice-breakers, breakout sessions, competitions, and other activities within the event are also accessible or multi-sensory. Work with facilitators to ensure the rules and mechanics still allow for PWDs to participate.

After the event

1. Consider your event swag and other goodies

For T-shirts, offer neutral colors and styles in both large and small sizes. Make sure items don’t take up too much baggage space for those flying in.

2. Get feedback

Reach out to your guests and ask if they were comfortable and able to fully participate. Ask if there is anything else they need. Be prepared to take down notes of their overall experience and learn from their feedback so you can incorporate them in your future events.

Accessibility in events is a must in this day and age. With over a billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experiencing some form of disability, making events more accessible and inclusive is definitely non-negotiable. As event planners, coordinators, and decision-makers, make designing with accessibility in mind. Learning how to make your event more accessible starts with your communication and message. Don’t hesitate to use templates and best practices to guide you in your effort to normalize diversity and inclusivity in all events and occasions.

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