A Conference Accessibility How-To Guide
This guide is split into two parts: accessibility for conference attendees themselves, and accessibility in regard to caring responsibilities. This is to assist with assigning action, but many of the issues are intersecting and simple actions will help many groups.
General accessibility actions
- An accessible conference must always have the option of a one-day fee and a clear cancellation and refund policy for illness or emergency family responsibilities.
- Begin organising your meeting or conference as early as possible, so that you can advertise early, so that people can plan for travel, caring etc. Publish a session timetable ideally eight weeks in advance.
- When session and paper proposals are submitted, ask for and take into account preferences for a particular day whenever possible.
- Consider weekend days that are often easier for childcare: ask for opinions on this as far in advance as possible.
- Provide as much information as possible on venue facilities- put on conference website as early as possible, clearly sign-posted. Ensure signage at conference is readable for visually impaired and that options for disabled parking, lifts, wheelchair access etc are placed on publicity materials and websites.
- Filming/Live Streaming
- Filming conferences is now a low cost exercise and can reap enormous benefits – it does not deter attendees! If possible live stream the event for those who can’t come at all, and place videos on YouTube/website later. Taking the opportunity to transcribe them is even better for accessibility.
- The live streaming of individual sessions can be streamed into breakout and childcare rooms, so people can also watch sessions that they may be missing. This provides an opportunity for them to participate more fully with speakers and the session organisers after the event and use the opportunity for discussion and networking in person.
- Consider holding the main networking events during the day, and not solely in pubs/bars. Instead, promote specific events within the conference hours e.g. extended 2 hour poster session with snacks and drinks provided.
- Create a conference or organisational policy on harassment (including sexual) and advertise its existence. Include actions specific to your meeting.
Harrassment and Inclusivity
Conferences must be safe and professional places for colleagues to share their work. Harassment and bullying behaviour* are actions which go against proper professional conduct, and conference organisers need to engage with these problems up-front to ensure that their events, and the experience of attendees, are not marred by inappropriate behaviour of any kind. We recommend:
Draft an ethics statement which includes harassment using existing resources (See, for example, the BAJR Respect Guide or for conferences, the Ada Initiative) . Be explicit that any form of harassment is regarded as professional misconduct and will not be tolerated. It should be defined as including but not limited to intimidation, abusive language, unwanted sexual advances and other forms of harassment (whether delivered in person or via digital media).
Provide at least two named individuals as points of contact for reporting harassment, and provide their contact details. Consider easy visibliity e.g. t-shirts.
Consider providing a “drop in” session/ location on each day of the conference, when the named point of contact is available for support.
Consider awareness training for all the conference staff including volunteers on dealing with situations.
Keep an on-going log of incidents.
Make it clear that should harassment take place during social rather than session/event hours (i.e. at bars, dinner, conference party, hotels) the named contacts will remain available to take reports and escalate action.
Conference attendee provisions
- Conference facilities
- All venues must have wheelchair accessible entrances to lecture theatres/rooms and conference venues, and provide ramps and clear markings where floors are uneven.
- Provide a fully accessible space for medical needs if required e.g. insulin injections, storing medical supplies.
- Breakout room- a space for working not socialising, but separate to the session rooms
- Ensure a quiet space is also available for those who need a break from the main conference activities.
- Check if disabled toilet facilities are close enough to the sessions for use – having to travel in lifts to another floor may not be ideal if you have continence issues.
- Provide a direct contact for further questions about venue accessibility and special support requirements
- In session facilities/provisions
- Advertise room orientations prior to the session for partially sighted and blind attendees.
- Hearing aid loops.
- Enough lighting and other requirements for lip reading
- Sufficient breaks for toilet use/other requirements
- Ensure that end aisle and near-exit seating is marked as “Accessible Priority Seating” or similar to encourage others to leave it free for those who need it.
- Ensure folding seats on the wheelchair level are left vacant so that if the typically 2 wheelchair spaces are fully occupied, other users are still able to attend.
- Presenter information:
- Provide suggestions to all presenters about how to ensure all powerpoints are accessible for partially sighted, colour blind attendees or those with epilepsy e.g. appropriate fonts/colour/size; slide durations of 2 minutes, no flashing images or lights.
- Engage directly with people about their needs: ask them what they require to participate fully and enjoy the conference.
- Locate a qualified childcare provider. They should bring everything they need. Organisers just need to provide a room for the creche.
- Let the provider know that you are expecting a range of ages. They will need an estimate of numbers – another reason to begin early.
- Find out about provision of special needs childcare.
- Insurance: the organisers must negotiate this with the host venue, the sooner the better. Likely requirements are a copy of H&S documentation from the childcare provider, and a risk assessment. Ask a member of staff to help.
- 2 accessible rooms for childcare
- One room to be used for breastfeeding/nappy changing. Facilities: a comfy (armless) chair, a fridge (all employers should have this available by law), a table, bottled water, powerpoint and a flip-top bin. Using the common room may work for this; and a microwave is also useful.
- A separate, lockable/otherwise secure room for expressing milk (and breastfeeding)- expressing typically requires more privacy and no disturbance. Needs a comfy (armless) chair and a power point for pumps.
- Provide as much information as possible on website about your provisions- especially important for new parents.
- Consider pictures of the rooms (creche, and both childcare rooms).
- A link to the childcare company or direct contact details.
- Distance from the sessions.
- Encourage parents to make contact with their child’s key worker.
- Consider subsidising childcare costs. This is about accessibility and even a small contribution can make a difference between attendance or non-attendance. Furthermore, the conference fee can allow for an extra contribution towards these costs that many attendees may be happy to pay (for example, an extra £5).
- Allow participants to opt out of lunch costs and spend this time with their children in the creche.
- Consider adult carer responsibilities as well. Livestream and archive film of all sessions for those unable to attend.
- Be aware that the provision of childcare is not the be-all and end-all and this document should be seen as an informative starting point for inclusion. Actively seek dialogue with parents well in advance to discover additional potential barriers to attendance.
- Normalize the presence of children: ensure children, while not disruptive, are also not invisible- normalizing having children is a positive action for ensuring provision of facilities is not seen as an ‘extra’
- Actually involve the children in the conference; ideas include organizing related activities, e.g. demos, a “kids session” so they can see presentations aimed at youngsters (good practice perhaps for communication!), dressing up, presenting things themselves, make posters that are displayed in the poster session.
The suggestions for best practise outlined on this website are by no means fully comprehensive, and we are open to further suggestions and guidance on inclusivity. This advice should be read in conjunction with other sources of information e.g. http://www.sigaccess.org/welcome-to-sigaccess/resources/accessible-conference-guide/