I’ve done a few reviews of events now, and I intend to do more in the future. Some have focused specifically on accessibility issues, while others have included them along with other discussions of the events.
On both of the event reviews I have done on The Orbit I noted that the events DID have a harassment policy on those sites, which were easy to find. This is likely because social justice communities have demanded harassment policies for years and many well known people will not speak at events that do not have those polices highly visible on their websites.
Attendees need accessibility information.
Neither event had accessibility information on their websites. To be blunt, I want this to become as unacceptable as having no harassment policy. Creating an accessibility information page is not expensive, but it indicates that an organization is aware that their attendees may have a wide range of different physical and neurological barriers, and that the event is doing what it can to mitigate these. It forces the event to examine ways in which they can decrease barriers to participation, and shows that the event wants disabled participants there.
When an event has no accessibility information it does send a clear message: We aren’t thinking of our disabled attendees. Or worse: We don’t care.
An event that has an outstanding accessibility information page is CONvergence, a fan run SF/F (and all things nerdy) conference in Minnesota. CONvergence is a large event compared to others I attend, with thousands rather than a few hundred attendees. Skepticon also has a wealth of information about accessibility on their website, and I love it. Skepticon is a much smaller event than CONvergence and shows how much even a small free conference can do to enhance and promote accessibility.
This information should also be found on your event programs, and any other communication to your attendees, such as informational emails and signage at the event.
So what should a small event include on their website?
The most important thing is to be honest. If someone is told the event they’re attending is wheelchair accessible, but they arrive and find steps leading to the entrance, they’re going to have a bad time. So be as honest as you reasonably can about barriers that may exist for people, while still working to remove any barriers you can.
Consider a wide range of disabilities when writing your accessibility information. Mobility limiting conditions, hearing and vision limitations, sensory concerns, and communication issues. Include both what you and your venue are doing to help with accessibility, and what issues someone may run into that you cannot mitigate.
Do what you can to make your venue more accessible. This guide from Cornell University will give you some idea of the things to consider, including things that should be considered mandatory. Some examples include getting an ASL interpreter or captions for your talks if you can. Make sure seating is available for people with mobility devices, such as a designated wheelchair area (making people with wheelchairs sit in the aisle or the back of a room isn’t a good option). Make sure your speakers’ stage can be used by people using mobility devices (which means it should be flat on the floor or have a ramp, not just steps). Use the process of building the accessibility page on your site as a way of examining what you are doing and what you could be doing better.
Read other events accessibility pages. The ones I linked to above for CONvergence and Skepticon are great examples. If there are other events held in the same venues you are using, checking their sites for accessibility information is an excellent idea. Along that same vein, definitely look at the website for the venue you are using and see if they have information there, as well as asking your venue liaison for any information they can provide.
Your registration form should also include a place for people to let you know if they have specific accessibility needs. Even if no one says they’re coming in a wheelchair you should still have accessible bathrooms and wheelchair seating for example, but this form will help you be informed of any unexpected needs so you can accommodate your attendees better.
Remember to make your goal to be the full inclusion of disabled attendees. The point of making your event accessible and making the information about accessibility clearly visible on your website is to make it clear to all of your attendees that disabled people are a part of the event and should be included. Keeping accessibility in mind as you create your event and your event website will help prevent you from making mistakes that exclude valuable members of your community.