Planning an Accessible Event

The department of Student Life has many resources to help with event planning.  The following are some general guidelines and considerations with regards to accessibility.  This is not necessarily an exhaustive list of all the possible considerations in planning an accessible event - event planners are encouraged to make a best effort, and to seek additional information when uncertain about how to proceed.

  1. Accessibility should be the default position: the varying and unknown abilities of participants should be taken into account during the planning stages.
  2. Accessible service provision training is required of all employees and volunteers at the University. Contact Diversity and Human Rights for more information.
  3. Barrier-free routes from parking lots, drop-off points, through buildings, or from other parts of campus should be obvious and clearly marked.
  4. Barrier-free entrances to buildings should be obvious and clearly marked.  Note that power-assisted door openers are critical for some participants.  A single step over a curb or at an entrance can create a barrier.
  5. Ensure that there is a good turning radius for wheelchairs and scooters within the venue, and that there are appropriate places at tables or in the audience.
  6. Notice when able bodied persons are occupying an accessible spot and discretely ask if they would consider relocating.
  7. Information ahead of time:
    • Do participants have a fair understanding of what to expect at the event?
    • Is information about accessibility provided in promotional materials? 
    • Are websites or other online communications compliant with accessibility standards?
  8. Keep in mind that some disabilities are invisible:
    • An individual may be able to walk, but not climb stairs;
    • A person may be able to participate in small groups, but not large groups, or may not be able to tolerate being the centre of attention.
  9. Can a person leave without becoming the focus of the group’s attention? Some disabilities require sudden and unexpected departure, which can be a threat to the person’s dignity.
  10. Are washrooms available?  Be sure to point out where the accessible and gender neutral washrooms are located.
  11. Are there multiple ways of participating for people of all different abilities?
  12. Being heard: keep in mind that people with partial hearing loss may not be able to hear a person who is addressing a large room, or a group of people at an outdoor venue, without amplification. A lot of background noise can also create difficulties.
  13. Ideally, large-scale events for the public have a strategy for accommodating people who are deaf. Captioning or ASL interpreters may be appropriate, particularly for content rich presentations.
  14. Consider making handouts available to participants ahead of time.
  15. Do not charge admission for attendants or guides who are assisting a person with a disability.
  16. Keep in mind that by law, service animals are permitted in most locations, and that exceptions are primarily limited to health and safety requirements. Ensure that participants do not disturb a working service animal.
  17. Large group activities: ensure there is care taken to avoid toppling or trampling a person with a mobility impairment, who has difficulties with balance, or who may not be seen in the crowd.
  18. Dietary requirements: ensure that food is clearly labeled, particularly with regards to common allergens. Ideally, ingredient lists will be available. Provide diary-free, nut-free and gluten-free options.
  19. Protect against tripping hazards. Note that people who are blind or have low-vision may not be able to see objects that are low to the ground.  High contrast and tactile ways of marking tripping hazards are useful.
  20. Sitting on the ground can be difficult or painful for people with certain types of medical conditions, back injuries or other types of disabilities.
  21. Note that some disabilities preclude students from participating in extreme temperatures. Hot and cold conditions can destabilize the health of a participant.
  22. Ensure that staff and volunteers have completed the appropriate training for any hazardous materials and/or heavy equipment involved with the event.  This training often takes into account accessibility issues that may not be otherwise apparent.

Keep in mind that people with disabilities usually want to participate equitably. There is often a desire to learn, have fun, and be a part of the community just like everyone one else.  Calling attention to their unique needs may be uncomfortable and discourage participation.