Making events accessible

Introduction

I am not sure if you can make an event accessible to absolutely everyone. But there are a lot of things that can be done and can be seen to have been done, that show us that people have really tried to get it right.

The aim of this web resource is to help you plan events and meetings in the social care field that are accessible to people who use services.

The Disabled People’s Movement’s philosophy of ‘nothing about us without us’ is now widely accepted by service providers and policy makers. It advocates active involvement of disabled people in the planning of strategies and policies that affect their lives. Using this approach to planning events should mean that all events are accessible to people who use services. The provision of access is also covered by the Equality Act’s requirements for reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

While the focus of this resource is on events in the social care field, many of the issues addressed are relevant to all meetings and events, so it can also be used more widely.

Access is about providing people with equal opportunity to participate fully - in the way that best suits them - whatever the activity. This equalities approach to access is fundamental and underlies the approach of this resource. 

People who use services, including disabled people, know best about their own individual access needs, so it is key that organisers ask them. Whilst it is important to stress that what suits one person may act as a barrier to another - even if they have exactly the same impairment - it would be useful to know about some common points. This is discussed in the section on Housekeeping, ground rules and introductions.

How this web resource came about

When SCIE set out to update its previous resource to making events accessible, it wanted to ensure that people who use services had the opportunity to contribute. To achieve this, SCIE set up a wiki website that people could write their views on, and experiences of, access at events and meetings. This resource uses the information from the previous resource, together with the information written by people who use services on the wiki website.

The traditional approach to guidance on access is to organise information around the access requirements associated with specific impairments. Whilst there may be some advantages in doing this - for example if you are holding an impairment specific event - we have decided to look at different access issues at each stage of planning, organising and running an event. We have chosen this approach as it:

This resource is designed to provide information about how you can make events accessible for everyone. Events can include one-to-one meetings, larger meetings, conferences and so on. The resource covers the different stages, from planning and support to evaluating the event once it has taken place.

The Equality Act requires anyone providing a service to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make the service accessible for disabled people. Running an event is covered by the definition of a service in the Act. This might mean having information available in alternative formats - for example in Braille, electronically or in ‘Easy Read’. It does not mean you have to make an adjustment such as having information available in alternative formats if no one who needs such an adjustment is attending. You should ask people before the event (e.g. on the booking form) whether they need information in an alternative format or whether they have any other needs. As far as possible, you should try and meet these needs.

If you are holding an event outside your office, some access issues will be the responsibility of the venue as they are providing you with a service. Although it is not always clear who is responsible, a good guide may be that you are responsible for the meeting content and all related issues and that the venue is responsible for physical access. In practice, it is always best to check all access facilities as many venues claim they are accessible, but may actually not meet all the requirements of your guests. For example, some venues that are wheelchair accessible inside have steps at the entrance.

It is good to think about accessibility and have a budget for this from the beginning.

This resource is intended to help you think through access issues. Sometimes it is not possible to locate a venue that covers all the needs of a diverse group of people who use services. Whilst your aim is to make the event as accessible as possible so that everyone can take part, occasionally it is necessary to book somewhere that you know is not ideal. In such cases you should prioritise access - that is the most basic requirements must be flat access and accessible toilets.

Acknowledgement

This resource was written by Fran Branfield from the suggestions and comments made by people who use services on SCIE’s access-wiki website.