Hello everyone! Thank you for participating in our first DEAI newsletter of 2024. My name is Jules Patalita, I’m the newest Disability Rights Advocate at the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, and I’m so excited to be able to share this information with all of you. For 2024, our theme is going to be “Accessible Spaces” and I thought that a good starting place would be to look at running accessible events. While it can feel overwhelming at first to try and understand ADA and accessibility, I’m here to tell you that understanding the basics will go a long way in helping, with most other information being a “need to know on a specific basis” situation. So, let’s start with some foundational ADA information before going over what you need to know before planning your next event!
What are the most important things to know when serving people with disabilities?
In all honesty, the first and most important step in providing accommodations for people with disabilities is to recognize your place as you approach the topic. Many people may feel nervous, not wanting to offend someone or fighting the urge to be overprotective. While people with disabilities may require accommodations, they’re no different than anyone else attending an event and should be treated as such. Make sure that you treat them as an independent figure. Focus on the person and not their disability, with word choice such as “person with a disability” and not “disabled person.” When communicating with anyone, maintain eye contact and speak to the person themself, not their aid or assistant. Never assume that a person needs assistance without asking and never touch someone’s equipment without permission! Above all, just ask individuals with disabilities what accommodations they require and prepare for that. No two people will require the same accommodations, even if they share a disability, so tailor the experience for the people attending.
Never Forget: making spaces accessible isn’t a medical issue, it’s a civil rights issue. All Americans deserve to have an equal experience enjoying your events, no matter their identity or circumstances.
The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to begin thinking about accessible accommodations as early as possible. Finding a venue that is already accessible should be a priority because planning your events at an accessible site will make this entire process easier. In general, planning accessible events is technical and plans need to be reviewed continuously. Also, the sooner you have a list of the necessary accommodations, the easier and cheaper it will be to implement any modifications, given the time and financial cost that can come with some modifications. A great way of getting this started is by giving invitees a chance to request accommodations, which can be done on the website used for registration or by making space on whatever registration forms you use. Again, ask any invitees with a known disability before the event about accommodations. They will understand their own personal needs and the necessary accommodations to a greater degree than you or any expert will. Seeking out collaboration with accessibility advisors, consultants, and disability organizations can also help ensure events are accessible.
Below I will list some access starting points and provide resources at the end:
- Choosing an ADA-compliant venue will simplify this process;
- Accessible parking;
- Accessible building entrances;
- Accessible route into the building and to services;
- Accessible route to the stage;
- Accessible restrooms;
- Primary function area is accessible;
- Integrating accessible seating throughout the venue;
- Elevators, if services are provided on the second floor.
Programs and Services
- Providing a way for people with disabilities to request accommodations;
- Policies and procedures that do not limit a person’s access because of their disability;
- Policies allowing for service animals and mobility aids;
- Presentations and speakers should be made accessible for all guests;
- Accessible timing of programs for people with disabilities.
- Accessibility tab on website that welcomes people with disabilities, lists disability accommodations that are available and helps with wayfinding;
- Access tools to allow visitors to change print, contrast, etc. on online content;
- Digital content being made accessible via screen reader;
- Providing alternative text on any pictures or images;
- Having speeches and presentation scripts sent out in advance to invitees;
- Ensuring that any documents or videos that are posted are accessible;
- A way to request ASL and CART services;
- Hiring multiple ASL interpreters to avoid fatigue;
- Print materials available on request in Plain Language, Braille, and Large Print.
Think about how someone travels to and through your location to identify any barriers that may exist and develop a plan to remove those barriers. Access is continuous and it is important to partner with disability organizations as things evolve. Remember, part of ADA guidelines is ensuring that reasonable accommodations are provided for all invitees to the event. It’s not a medical issue, it’s a civil rights issue! Above all, communicate with your guests with disabilities about their needs. Their requests may be different than what you had intended and are likely easier to implement than your original plans. No two cases are the same, so speak with the individuals you are serving to ensure their experience is a positive one.
ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities:
Great Lakes ADA Technical Center:
ADA Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People with Disabilities: