Making events accessible
The event: Housekeeping, ground rules, introductions and greetings
It is important for participants to feel welcome and to know they can ask for assistance at any point during the day. Housekeeping, introductions and ground rules should be given at the start of the event and go towards creating a positive atmosphere. Ground rules should clearly set out behaviour that is not acceptable such as discriminatory behaviour.
Service users said:
It would be useful at the start of events on each day for the chair to talk a little about how things will be managed... When you don't attend events regularly these things are a mystery. I've seen many people who use services feel frustrated they did not get to ask their question or were cut short.
Make sure staff/people working at the event are easily identifiable.
Event organisers may have to work to gain people’s trust.
For meetings with more than one impairment group and/or a diverse range of people who use services, it is particularly important to develop ground rules that everyone agrees with and can work to. This is because what enables some groups of people disables others. It is equally important to tell participants if the event is going to be recorded in any manner. Not only is it crucial to receive advance notice of this, but it can have a negative effect on some people with certain conditions.
Where a meeting is dealing with sensitive issues and information that should be treated as confidential, it is important to let people know at the start of the meeting that everything they say during the event will be anonymous. This means that any report or write-up of the event will not use people’s names nor will anything anyone says be traced back to them.
Many people made comments about how staff at events can help make disabled people and other people who use services feel welcome. General comments included:
You should never assume that you know what a person needs, you should always ask the person what help they may need.
Remember that some people may have a disability that is not visible.
People also made comments which were impairment specific. While it is best to approach access issues in a general way that addresses all the needs of disabled people, it is important to acknowledge that there are some impairment specific barriers to inclusion relating to people with particular access requirements. People who use services identified and commented upon many such barriers and many apply to more than one impairment ‘type’.
People who have not knowingly met disabled people can be particularly concerned about such issues and be worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. Getting this wrong can lead to confusion and misunderstandings and can cause offence.
Wheelchair users said:
- ‘Sit down and talk to me at my height.’
- ‘Never lean on my wheelchair – it is my personal space.’
- ‘Never move the wheelchair without the person’s consent.’
- ‘Don’t make all wheelchair users sit in the same area.’
- ‘Events with people sitting on the floor are a massive barrier – wheelchair users can't move as a result, and are also isolated by being on a completely different physical level.’
- ‘People stand at lunch in circles, it is impossible to get included in these groups, you feel very isolated, get people into teams in the morning then it is easier to talk to them during lunch (seminars included!). I am extremely outgoing and I find I have to push my way in to get talking to people, and I always end up with neck ache looking up!!!’
People with personal assistants said:
- Speak to me, not my assistant.’
- ‘I don’t expect my P.A. to be introduced. They are there for me and not the meeting. They are at work for me. They are not there to have their opinions listened to.’
People with speech impairments said:
- ‘If you don’t understand what I say, ask me to repeat it.’
- ‘Maintain eye contact with me.’
- ‘Give me the time to say what I need to.’
- ‘Listen to disabled people with speech impairments carefully and if you do not understand ask them to repeat it. Do not attempt to finish sentences or assume what they are going to say.’
People with visual impairments said:
- ‘If you offer a visually impaired person a seat, guide their hand to the back of the chair, telling them that there is a chair to sit on.’
- ‘Let me know you are there by lightly touching me on the arm.’
‘Speak to me, not my guide.’
- ‘If you guide me, describe where we are going. Tell me if there are stairs, and whether they go up or down. Describe any obstacles or features ahead such as ramps, steps and doors.’
- ‘When dimming the lights for a presentation, make sure I can still see my personal assistant.’
- ‘In a discussion it is helpful if participants say their name before speaking.’
- ‘Guide dogs are working dogs and should not be patted.’
‘If people are bringing guide or other assistance dogs to an event, you will need to provide water if requested.’
People with a hearing impairment said:
- ‘If you are in a meeting, make sure that people speak one at a time.’
- ‘If you are speaking to a deaf person, make sure that they are looking at you as they may want to lip read. If they are lip reading, try to make sure that you do not have your back to a light source as they will not be able to see you clearly. Speak clearly but do not exaggerate words. Do not chew gum or cover your mouth.’
- 'Use portable microphones for questions from the audience.’
People from black and minority ethnic groups commented:
- ‘Don’t assume that I speak the language of the country I am originally from.’
- ‘Ask me what language I prefer to use.’
- ‘Ask me what dialect I speak before you book an interpreter.’
- ‘Consider putting translated versions of written materials onto audio tape or CD.’
- ‘The Language Line Service (0800 169 2879) can be used for one-to-one interpreting. This is a telephone service where you can arrange to talk to an interpreter.’ (are there costs involved? Who is this service run by?)
- ‘The location, as some areas are predominately white and can be a little daunting.’
- ‘Remember there are cultural differences around body language, such as whether or not it’s OK to look people in the eye.’
- ‘Don’t assume that I come from a certain faith, live in a certain way, or eat a certain diet.’