Creating a friendly and relaxed atmosphere for the meeting is about making it inclusive and accessible.
Good planning is the key to making an event inclusive, accessible and open to all participants. It does cost money to be fully inclusive and the budget should be in place from the start. It is not good practice to include access as an afterthought and it generally costs more.
If you have asked me about my access requirements, I expect them to be met.
Checklist for the day of the event.
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.’
- Timing is an access issue.
- Start and finish on time.
- Keep to the break times as stated on the agenda.
- Avoid starting and finishing when people will have to travel in rush hours.
- Avoid school start and finish times and school holiday dates where possible.
- Be aware that for many people who use services and disabled people things can take a lot longer.
The comments of people who use services around this issue clearly show that timing an important consideration in making events accessible:
Keeping to time is important – here’s an example of why:
Sitting in travel (small portable) electric wheelchairs for long periods is very tiring as they don’t have good supports… so don’t say: “Oh well we are near the end of the day so we will carry on without a break”. I have planned for the day as advertised… you should stick to the timings too.
Disabled people need more notice of events – and of cancellation of events – than other people. Don’t leave things too late. Personal assistance, assistance on public transport etc. takes a long time to arrange, it can be expensive and often can’t be cancelled at the last minute without penalties.
Other advice on timing included:
Don’t start meetings too early in the morning. It can take some people who use services a lot longer than other people to get ready.
Travelling in rush hour is not really an option for many people.
Don’t hold meetings after dark.
Food and refreshments can make or break an event, and people who use services made many comments about this. As with many issues of access, choice is the key factor. It is important to give people choice:
- in the food they eat/drink
- of implements they use to eat/drink
- when they can eat/drink, where possible (some people may need to drink/eat outside of scheduled breaks).
You should ask people about any particular dietary requirements on the booking form for any event where food and refreshments are served.
At the event, allow people to make choices by making sure:
- food is clearly labelled
- assistance is available
- seating with optional tables is available.
This is what people said:
I need to eat regularly, so have snacks available in breaks. Not always sweet ones!
Offer choices of cutlery and crockery. I find a mug easier than a cup and saucer.
It helps me if people put out drinking straws.
Have people available to help with carrying food and drinks – it’s difficult for most wheelchair users and people with mobility problems.
Keep meat and fish away from vegetarian and vegan food.
Avoid pork, beef and shellfish. This covers a lot of dietary needs. Be aware of allergies and those who are gluten free, dairy free and have nut allergies also.
Always have water available as some medication makes people very thirsty.
Evaluation of the event – from the perspective of the people who use services – can be extremely helpful in the planning of future events. Evaluation forms should be simple, straightforward and available in different formats.
Ensure people get home
It is good practice for the hosts of the event to remain behind until the last of the participants has left. Travelling for most people who use services can be stressful, however well your journey has been planned – there is always room for the unexpected.
Follow up and contact after the event
Ensure that you have the contact details of the participants and their preferred format for receiving information. It is important to give people who use services feedback about the issues discussed at an event and the opportunity to comment on any report or article produced as a result of the event. This will help you to maintain good contacts with people who use services who may then be involved in future meetings and events.