From the Disability Wisdom Community: Tips and Tricks for Inclusive Event Planning

This week, I’m sharing some crowdsourced insights from the Disability Wisdom Discussion Group
A group member, who is a university professor, is planning a semester as a “faculty in residence” where she will live on campus and help to oversee student programming. She asked the disabled group members to describe strategies for making events and programs accessible. Here is the feedback she received, which will benefit anyone planning an event:

  • One thing that comes to mind is putting a phrase such as “if you have any accessibility needs, please ddon’t hesitate to contact so and so.” on the event advertisements. Others may not agree with me, but I take it as a good sign because I feel that the event host is at least being mindful that there are folks who may have accessibility concerns. Of course it depends on the event, but if I see such a phrase I usually contact and ask if they can make handouts available in an accessible format, ask if they have audio description available, etc.

  • Make sure there are some quiet events that people who get sensory overload can attend. Movie nights where the movies aren’t too loud, for example.
  • Sensory input boxes/fidget boxes/little toy things are wonderful. Have them at the entrance of the classroom. Yeah the students are technically adults. But having quiet spikey ball things to mess with in class saves a ton of people, not just autistic people, a lot of headaches.
  • Steep ramps: If you notice a ramp is ridiculously steep, say something to someone who can do something about it. Likewise, if you see some rooms are only available if you can climb stairs, say something. This isn’t just for classrooms. If Joe is having a get together on floor two of his dorm building, but no one bothered installing elevators, Jane is automatically excluded if she’s on crutches or is in a wheelchair.
  • Tree branches. Guide dogs are supposed to notice face-level tree branches. Not all do. Canes definitely don’t. Being whacked in the face by a tree sucks. Tell maintenance to get on face-level tree branches that are covering pathways.
  • Quiet zones. Going with my first two points. Having quiet areas on campus other than libraries are really important. Having a room with beanbags, a sensory box, and a giant SSHHH over the door. Bring your own noise-cancelling headphones. It can be a study room, whatever, but only quiet voices.
  • And letting students and other faculty know that you’re there as a point person about accessibility needs is good. There should be a disabled student services department, but they only cover certain students with certain specific needs. Generalized things are often overlooked. “Oh we have two dozen kids that all need golf carts to get from point A to point B. Best keep those golf carts.” Never realizing that maybe they should make an easier route between those two points.

  • Accessibility to information, places, and programs is very important, but it should be balanced with high expectations for all people with disabilities. We all need to find ways to contribute and to challenge ourselves if we hope to acquire any influence in any setting, accessible or otherwise.

  • I like the suggestions thus far. I would also like to add that when students are in control of programming they often don’t consider even the little things in their activities that might exclude people with various disabilities. Writing things on a piece of paper and having people guess who said what is fun, but how would a blind person or someone who physically can’t write put down their answers independently; How would someone with dyslexia be able to read it, or a blind person again. Movies often don’t have both captions and audio description. some physical games might be hard for a blind person, someone with a mobility issue, or someone who gets overwhelmed by a lot of motion and noise to deal with. And sure people can partner up with others for some of this stuff, but then it’s awkward being the only group while everyone else is playing individually. Spaces and accommodations need to be in place for students to even come, and I like the idea of students taking the lead in planning, but their plans also have to consider accessibility, too.
  • Also, on an unrelated note, it might be a good idea to also put a note about allergies on flyers. SOMETHING like, if you need any accommodations due to a disability or food allergies, please contact insert person here. THAT way you avoid the awkward issue of having pizza and Joe can’t have dairy, and Sally has a severe gluten allergy.
  • In person event can be a lot for those who struggle with social anxiety or social skills. You may want to include events that involve interacting online, like a gaming night or some kind of online scavenger hunt. This may help with accessibility issues for other disabilities as well.

  • So My biggest point of advice I learned from an amazing disability studies professor is that there’s absolutely no such thing as fully accessible to all because disabled people have varying access needs i.e a blind person vs a deaf person vs someone with sensory difficulties. All of this to say that you can always think of hickups with events, but as long as some key things are hit on, you are generally okay. Also, a variation of loud vs quiet etc events could be a way to include people of varying access needs in different events. So I fully echo the absolutes of always hosting in a wheelchair accessible location because that doesn’t inhibit anyones access needs and can only be inclusive, and always adding on top of event pages that if people have access needs/accommodations not to hesitate to email/call. Another big thing to me is that advertising not just be done on bulletin boards, and that advertising happen electronically.

  • Pick a room that’s wheelchair accessible. Picking a room that has tiers instead of seats is not wheelchair accessible. If wheelchairs and other mobility devices are forced to the back of the room make sure they can hear. Do you allow note taking on a laptop? Some people may need to do this. Is an interpreter available if needed? Braille writers click. Can you tolerate it? Is your handouts screen reader accessible?

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