None of us want to inadvertently exclude anyone of their right to full access to our meetings, but it requires not only accurate information, but also the right people to help you fulfill your requirement. In order to get the right answers, it is important to make sure you know the right questions to ask and have your own access to the resources to plan a fully inclusive meeting.
When you are planning a meeting or event, you want to make sure everyone can participate fully, including people with disabilities. By having a well thought out plan, you can build accessibility into every aspect of your meeting. There are two main components you need to consider when planning an accessible meeting or event: physical access to the meeting space and access to the meeting contents and proceedings.
Additionally, you need to realize that physical accessibility isn’t confined to the walls of the meeting room or hotel. You will want to consider the overall accessibility of the destination at large and prepare yourself with specific questions to ask your Convention and Visitors Bureau and your hotel contacts.
As you begin to consider destinations, you want to build your accessibility concerns into your site selection process. While it may be reasonable to assume public buildings have by law complied with the components of the ADA, it is your responsibility to check and secure that these requirements have been met for the facilities you intend to use for each part of your meeting and event.
The ADA specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in the public and private sectors, regardless of funding sources. With regard to the meetings industry, Title III of the law compels those who operate places of “public accommodations,” like hotels, convention centers, exhibit halls, arenas, restaurants and retail establishments: all the facilities most commonly used by planners when executing a meeting. Under this law, associations and companies, actually become “pubic accommodations” when they contract space for their event. So, under the law both the owner/operator of the event space, and the contractor of the event space can be held responsible for noncompliance.
All event planners, even volunteers who plan meetings and events, need to take their responsibility seriously and be aware of compliance. This is a broad topic and one that requires access to the ADA check list for meetings and events, as well as a check on the state and local level for additional requirements.
Here are some overarching suggestions for taking the right steps to assure all people are able to take advantage of what your meeting has to offer regardless of any present limitations:
- Begin with a specific survey of “special needs” in your registration materials. This simple step will allow you to fully understand the realm of possibilities that may be encountered, both the expected and perhaps unexpected. This will give participants the opportunity to make you aware of everything from a simple dietary restriction or allergy, to the need for translators, access to materials in a different format, or guide dog relief area.
- Add ADA compliance to your hotel and venue specification sheets and your RFP. Giving specific attention to mobility, visual and hearing accessibility. And include a clause in your contract that indicates that the facility meets all ADA requirements.
- Don’t forget to ask about any planned renovations or construction during your event that may alter accessibility.
- If you will be requiring transportation, also ask your transportation companies to provide documentation of compliance.
- Consider additional space requirements that will be needed to accommodate those with special mobility needs, and if the standard sets will actually apply to the needs of your participants.
- Depending on your survey, consider the type of assisted audio devices or interpreters you may need to provide to support access to your programming, and how you may need to alter visual components of your meeting to those who are sight impaired, providing large font or braille materials, or another altered format.
To get a bit more specific, don’t forget these more detailed areas of concern:
- Did you remember to ask all speakers, presenters, and special guests of your meeting that are not registered participants of their “special needs?”
- Have you assigned a specific person on your planning staff to be in charge of special needs and requests and given those who will attend your meeting their contact information both prior and during the event? You might consider having a specific service point location, apart but near the event registration area, so anyone who might want to check on a special request can do so with a bit of privacy, if necessary.
- Train staff and volunteers to handle all needs or special requests quickly and have a list of go to resources on staff and at the hotel or venue.
- As you build your event schedule, consider the length of your transition time and length of travel for those who may need extra time.
- Consider alterations/accommodations for event signage depending on the needs of your participations.
- After your event, take time to review for best practices for access and accommodations and to add changes for what occurred that perhaps you did not anticipate. Have your staff liaison take notes during the event to make sure you don’t forget important modifications.
Don’t forget, your Convention and Visitors Bureau is a great strategic partner to help you quickly and easily pull all the destination accessibility information you need together, and to help you think beyond the walls of your hotels and meeting facilities. Reaching out to them first can make researching your options more comprehensive and may even have you consider some creative possibilities other groups have used successfully in the destination. It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel.
Here are some questions to ask your destination sales professional:
- Does the CVB have an accessibility coordinator?
- Does the CVB have a relationship with their local accessibility agencies and resources they can point you to for proactivity or troubleshooting?
- What hotels have accessibility plans on site?
- What transportation companies have accessible vehicles?
- How does the hotel/venue deal with access to off site or special location food/beverage events?
- How many accessible rooms are there in the destination? Have they been audited as accessible?
- How close are the hotels/venues you are considering to airports, rail, taxi or shuttle services?
- Are there accessible restaurants, shops and attractions nearby?
- How creative can the destination and the hotel(s) be in working with any accessible requirements? Ask for ideas or examples or experiences that are comparable to your own considerations.
There are a host of people and supporting agencies in every destination committed to help you serve all your participants fairly and equally. And your CVB is the consolidated point person to connect you to both the people and the resources to help you achieve your meeting goals and ensure everyone can participate.