Keys To Planning an Accessible Company Event
How To Plan an Accessible Company Event
Planning corporate events requires coordination, communication, and a lot of time and effort to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. Chances are there will be a few things that don’t go as planned, but nobody will notice as long as everybody is enjoying themselves.
Whether it’s a private event for your office, or a public event your company has organized, creating an accessible environment is something you want to work closely with the event staff or planner to ensure your guests don’t have to worry about feeling comfortable. Accessibility has become a focal point in most major institutions for several reasons. At the heart of accessibility is equal access to opportunities and participation. Creating an event that is conscientious of others helps keep the focus on your company event and not on discomfort or inaccessibility that requires special attention, potentially disrupting or embarrassing someone.
Physical accessibility is the better known – and more common – understanding of how to consciously prepare a company event. Typically, this requires physical accommodations to meet known physical needs of your event’s guests. This might range from an appropriate amount of handicap parking to wheelchair accessibility, or anything that could allow a non-able-bodied person to enter and enjoy your event.
But physical needs are not all you should consider when planning – social accessibility is also incredibly important because this helps ensure the space your event creates is welcoming and inclusive of all people. When planning around social accessibility, you want to be conscious of triggering and harmful language, take dietary choices into consideration, and show that you understand, see, and value those who will be attending. Now that we’ve explored some of the basics, let’s look at specific considerations that can make your company event more accessible.
Ramps and Elevators
Mobility impairments come in a variety of forms, but accessibility through wheelchair ramps and elevators provide a simple solution to a variety of problems. Walking can be impaired temporarily, due to an injury such as a broken foot or torn ACL, or could be permanent from a person’s birth, even the permanent result of an accident.
The point is, you don’t want to think about access in terms of stereotypes – just because there is not someone in your office or social circle with a mobility issue doesn’t mean something couldn’t happen to change that prior to your event. The best advice is to prepare ahead of time, and if your venue doesn’t have elevator or ramp access, work with their staff to find a solution.
There are multiple learning types and everyone understands instructions differently. Some may find a map or visual representation of a venue’s location helpful; others need directions written out, and some just need an address. How to get to your company’s event venue can be nerve-wracking for a lot of people, and providing detailed instructions that incorporate the address, visuals, landmarks, and street-level directions can help ensure that each of your guests knows how to get there.
Where your guests are going to sit can be tricky to figure out. If you know ahead of time, that one or more of your guests may need special accommodations for seating (room for a wheelchair at their table, a place for their service animal to sit, or a location near the bathroom) reserve their spot ahead of time. By setting space aside, you remove another concern for your guests upon arrival.
Another factor to consider is the diversity of your seating options. Some conditions make prolonged sitting difficult – having some high top tables with bar stools or chairs might give someone the option to stand, sit, and alternate throughout the course of the evening. Also, consider having space for people who prefer to stand, which allows them to be fully engaged in the program. Without bothering someone by blocking another attendee’s view of any programming, this can help your diverse group of attendees find the best seating options to meet their needs.
As mentioned earlier, adequate handicap parking spaces will be important for your guests. If there are limitations on spaces available, consider working with the venue and event planner to designate parking spots near to the building or near to an entrance with an elevator or ramp (if necessary). This is easier if you have an idea of your guests needs, but a public event might make this difficult. The legal standard is 1 in 25 parking spots, but you may want to add several additional reserved parking spaces for expectant mothers and anyone with a mobility impairment.
You can also check to see if valet services are offered, but make sure to communicate what the expectations are here. Nothing is more awkward for a guest than to not know if valet is free or whether or not they are encouraged to tip. Clearly communicate these expectations and parking accommodations ahead of time. You can also provide a way for attendees to contact you if their parking needs may require alternate considerations.
Whether it is a personal choice, doctor recommended, or a medical intolerance to certain types of foods, dietary restrictions are important to consider when making your event accessible. Food restrictions can range from deadly allergies, to extreme physical symptoms, and to moral conflict (for religious or ethical reasons). Taking your guests’ needs and preferences around food seriously reflects both social and physical accessibility. Oppositely, ignoring their needs can lead to guests feeling a bit more than gassy.
Work closely with your caterer to come up with a menu that meets the needs of your guests. Take your time to carefully think this through – for most events, food plays a central role in how an event is perceived, so you want to come as close as possible to batting a thousand here. Depending on your approach (buffet style or RSVP with a plated meal), you typically want to have red meat, an alternative meat (chicken or fish), a vegetarian option, and a contact for any special accommodations.
This should cover your bases, and don’t forget to request the nutrition facts and ingredients for the different options that will be served – you can note any ingredients that are common food allergies, such as gluten or nuts.
Some physical accommodations you will want to account for will include your Audio-Visual set-up. Make sure you have access to hearing assistance devices or ASL interpreters as needed – you don’t want to run a corporate program and have members of your audience missing out on the key details.
For individuals with impaired vision, consider preferred seating so they can easily see material from your program. If you are presenting, make sure that you are using high-contrast colors and large, sans-serif fonts so your material is easier to see and read.
Limit distracting and flashing lights – depending on the type of presentation you are giving, you may require special lighting, so opt toward keeping it simple. Remember, some people are sensitive to flashing lights and too much “showmanship” can be distracting and take away from what’s most important.
It’s been mentioned several times throughout, but the importance of clear communication cannot be stressed enough. Creating an accessible and inclusive event requires that you provide clarity and the opportunity for your guests to request accommodations. This helps your employees and guests feel included and lets them know you care about their specific needs. Doing this ensures that your company event will be fun and engaging for all.
Allow Attendees to Request Accommodations
Whether it’s parking, special seating arrangements, or food needs, providing multiple channels for your attendees to communicate their needs will help you plan a better event. Remember, you don’t want to overcomplicate this. Consider including a specific contact to track and address special accommodations – whether that’s you or someone on your team. Also decide on including an email and phone number within the RSVP. Another option would be to include a QR code on your RSVP with a link to a survey or request form. Providing multiple channels is a great way to show attendees that you are already thinking about accommodating a diverse range of needs and preferences.
Display Accessibility Information on Your Event Page
If your event has its own web page, this is the perfect place to communicate that all are welcome by displaying accommodation options and listing the same accommodation options as your RSVP card. You can also include a link to request specific accommodations, such as hearing assistance devices or preferred seating. Prominently displaying this information on your page will help potential attendees feel comfortable making their RSVP, but missing this opportunity might make them hesitate or feel uncomfortable reaching out.
Disclose Accommodations in Your Pre-Event Communications
Whether it’s a save-the-date, a flier, or an RSVP, make sure that you are communicating the steps you are taking to make accommodations for attendees, including who they can contact if a special request is needed or they have a question. Include a hyperlink in email and online communications that displays directions and parking instructions, food accommodations (including the nutrition facts and potential allergy triggering ingredients), along with other physical and social accessibility options. Clearly communicating ahead of time helps guests prepare, and helps you plan and organize your event to be the best it can.