I was thinking about event accessibility today and events I’ve been to as a wheelchair user. There are bare minimums of accessibility that mean I can get in the door, and usually that’s what people mean when they tell me their space, or event, is wheelchair accessible. A level entrance, a lift or elevator, maybe some specially marked off seating area. But what makes it not just possible, but a good experience? A great, or amazing experience?
I can list some of those things that kick it up a notch!
Good information. Tell me about all the access needs you have considered, whether they come out accessible for me or not, or you were able to mitigate them or not! Just say it as part of the event announcement. It’s a great jumping off point for me to ask deeper questions.
Level entrance that doesn’t depend on a lift. This is about my feeling of security and confidence. Am I going to encounter one of those hellish, clanky lifts that is locked and no one knows where the key is? Is it going to be broken? Is it going to break while I’m in it and a restaurant full of people are staring at me?!
Spaciousness. There is room to move. I can go into a room, and then freely, without fuss or disruption, get out again! I can sit with my friends, whether they are wheelchair users or not. Tables are far apart. Aisles are wide and not blocked by audio visual equipment or people’s backpacks. More than one or two wheelchair users can be in this space and move around and feel FREE.
Bathroom access. This should be obvious but sadly isn’t. Can I get to a level entrance bathroom? Can I do it without going two buildings over and 9 floors up with a freight elevator in between? If not then I don’t even want to be at your event. Is the path to the bathroom clear or will I have to bulldoze my way down a twisting narrow hallway full of mop buckets?!
Community education and participation. The event organizers or hosts mention things like keeping aisles clear and the community understands the reasons for it!
Reachable food and drinks. It is a downer when there’s a gorgeous buffet for your event but it’s up on a weird little dais that has stairs, or it’s so high up I can’t see it from my wheelchair. Yes, people will help me and get my food but it just feels good to be able to independently browse and decide, at my own pace. I can deal with a bar counter height drink ordering experience, and that’s fine, but it’s always nice if there is a low area too and this becomes more important if you are inviting multiple wheelchair users to your event! Decrease the awkwardness by having some low height counter space.
Some seating for other people. It’s a good idea to have this anyway for walking people who get fatigued, but if you make sure there are at least some chairs, that are moveable, then it also means I can get into a space where I can talk to walkies without craning my neck for hours to look up at them.
Accessible presenter setup. Is there a stage? Am I a presenter? Might I be winning an award ? (I like to think so!) Then please make there be an accessible spot for a presenter, a podium or chair, a microphone, place for me to put a laptop and control slides, in a way that isn’t horrible or annoying. I have crawled on stages, I have been lifted onto stages, and I’ll do it but it’s not a great experience. Conference hotel wants to charge you 10K for ramp onto a stage? Maybe get creative with it and at least make there be a level, alternative presentation setup that doesn’t suck.
There’s probably more, but those are the top ones that come to mind!