Accessibility when planning an event
When planning an event, you are legally required to provide access for people with disability.
Key considerations of an access plan
It is important to note that an environment that is not accessible and inclusive of all people; meaning that persons with disability cannot interact with the surroundings, is what materialises disability.
Under the Social Model of Disability, it is the physical environment that perpetuates disability through the barriers it creates. Once these barriers are removed a disability may not exist. For example, if a wheelchair user can access every element of a physical space like other users, does he or she in fact have a disability?
By removing these barriers, your event will provide a more dignified, equitable and enjoyable experience for people with disability, their families, friends and carers.
A more accessible and inclusive event will also increase the opportunity for greater community participation of people with disability and change community attitudes towards disability.
When planning an event, you are legally required to provide access for people with disability. The most effective way of ensuring access to everyone, is to think about accessibility and inclusion at the very earliest planning stages of your event. This means thinking about the accessibility requirements of attendees, staff, speakers, performers and exhibitors who may have a disability.
The NSW Government has developed a Toolkit for Accessible and Inclusive Events which aims to assist event organisers in creating an event that is accessible to all members of the community. The Toolkit also provides a checklist of access solutions you could apply to your event.
“As a wheelchair user, this is one venue that I never hesitate to book tickets at. That's because I know I'm always able to sit with my friends to enjoy the game, rather than by myself.”
“As a person with low vision, the increased lighting and audio announcements about where to catch buses and taxis were a great help as I was leaving the event to get home. These little things can help to make an event so much more enjoyable and stress-free.”
“As an event organiser for a popular local community event, we have tried to incorporate access considerations into our planning over the last few years. We have noticed a significant increase in attendance by people with a disability and their families and friends, as well as parents with prams and older members of the community. Our event now better reflects our community.”
Choosing a venue for your event is likely to be one of the first things you do.
You should only consider a venue that is wheelchair accessible, with step free entry, a continuous accessible path of travel to all destinations of the event, and has accessible facilities including toilets.
You should also consider the following accessibility planning for your event:
- accessibility viewing areas for people with disability that is not raised or delineated but is in-built into the general seating configuration – providing the most immersive and dignified seating experience for guests with cognitive, sensory or physical disability
- accessibility map, highlighting all accessibility elements
- accessible public transport services nearby (so you can provide information on accessible routes from railway stations or bus stops to the event or refer patrons to the Transport Info Trip Planner)
- accessibility parking bay/s
- pick-up drop-off zones located on flat ground
- accessible path of travel to the event which is clear of obstruction
- All gender accessibility toilets that allow people with a wide range of disabilities to be independent; including wheelchair and scooter users, people with walking frames, people with guide dogs and other users who would benefit from additional space such as parents with prams. . Note that with every bank of standard toilets an accessible toilet should be provided
- Changing Places Amenity – this amenity provides an accessible toilet, adjustable change table and enough space to allow people with high support needs to have their toileting needs met in a safe and dignified manner
- accessible facilities such as food and drink counters marked with clear visual signage
- resting spots at regular intervals along entrance and exit paths
- clear external signage to the event with clear contrast colours (white on blue), installed at a height visible to wheelchair users
- a main entrance that is on the accessible route or a clearly signposted alternative
- accessible ramps to all areas and levels of the event, including VIP areas, that have non-slip surfaces, are wide enough to accommodate people using mobility aids and are clear of obstruction
- large doorways with colour contrasting door frames and trims
- lifts with audible information and buttons with a raised tactile surface and braille markings
- captioning and hearing loop technology
- adequate lighting
- directional signage should be clear and easy to read to assist people with intellectual, cognitive and sensory disabilities
- battery recharge station facilities for power-wheelchair uses
- Sometimes events can become very overwhelming for a person with a sensory disability. Therefore, it is important to provide a sensory/quiet space across the event footprint, which include tactile and sensory toys, beanbags and noise cancelling headphones
- designated assistant animal toileting area and access to water for service animals
- charging stations for power-wheelchairs and scooters
- Auslan interpreting to be provided upon request, ensuring that those that require this service are seated in a location with clear sightlines to the Interpreters and/or screens
- additional waiting times in queues, particularly in hot weather poses health risks for some guests with disability. A priority queue with wider lane should be considered at all entry points
- contact to a dedicated Events Accessibility and Inclusion Officer in the lead up and on the day of your event.
A venue should also have evacuation procedures that take account of people with a disability. You should ensure:
- all parts of the accessible route to and within the venue remain clear of obstruction and well-lit throughout the event (as sometimes accessible routes become blocked by refuse or equipment)
- both visual and audio fire alarms are installed and working
- if there are people attending your event who are deaf, generally they will bring someone with them you can communicate with them, but if this is not the case, ensure your communication line with them is clear. This can be done via a written message or text to inform them of what is happening. This is why it is important to know what your disability groups are
- audio and visual emergency announcements
- clearly marked accessible emergency exits
- a mobility map of the facility showing accessible paths, entrances and other features is available before and during the event.
Communicating your event’s accessibility features
It is a fact that people with disability need to plan. In a perfect world attending an event would pose no physical barriers for a person with disability. This is sometimes not the case, so people with disability often plan ahead to alleviate these physical barriers.
Therefore, you need to ensure information about your event's accessibility is readily available before and during your event.
A website can be a great place to provide detailed information on event considerations for people with disability, such as accessible travel options to and from your event.
Your event website should feature information about how accessible the surrounds and physical structures are and link to any useful resources, such as the Transport Infoline Trip Planner.
It is also helpful to publish detailed information about the event site or venue, such as seating plans or photographs of accessibility features, to help your guests identify any problems they may encounter.
Where not all facilities at an event are accessible, it is helpful to identify those that are. You might consider publishing an accessibility map of the event venue on your website or linking to an app that shows accessibility parking, accessible paths of travel, drop-off zones, toilets, paths, entrances and exits, lifts and other features. This can also be distributed to staff on the ground at the event itself.
When providing event information on your website, consider designing it so it can be accessed by people with disability. This can be as simple as ensuring text is displayed in an accessible electronic format such as HTML and all functionality is available from a keyboard. You may also consider producing information about your event in plain language formatting. This is useful for people with intellectual disability, as well as for older people and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
For information on designing accessible websites, including the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, visit the Web Accessibility Initiative website. Some best practice access and inclusion websites include Be. Lab and Inclusion London.
Communications during the event
To ensure any communications during your event are reaching the broadest possible audience, consider providing:
- signage in and around the event with clear contrast colours (white on blue) using the International Symbol of Access icon to indicate accessible toilets, pick-up and drop-off points, food and drink counters and accessible viewing areas
- signage installed at a height visible to wheelchair users
- key information available in large print and/or braille.
If you are providing live updates at your event through social media or variable message signs, consider including real-time information about accessibility routes or when accessibility viewing areas have reached capacity. As travelling to an area can involve considerable effort, this will save wheelchair users and other guests from unnecessary trips.
Staff play a key role in ensuring that your event is as accessible as possible, from the initial planning phase to the day of the event.
If your event is likely to attract a large number of people with disability, it may be useful to appoint an accessibility officer to develop and implement a comprehensive accessibility plan.
Provide staff with disability awareness training and consider annual refreshers to this training. Educating your staff about accessibility will ensure they are able to identify limitations and opportunities in your event’s accessibility plan.
Customer service staff/volunteers play a key customer service-facing role for your event. They should be briefed about both the accessible and inaccessible features of the event and be able to provide detailed information, such as the seating plans, if required. If your event is ticketed, staff need to be aware of ticketing arrangements, include admission for people with a disability and their carers, as well as whether a venue can accommodate a wheelchair user and companions in its seating format.
On the day, staff are crucial in ensuring that information on accessibility is readily available and effectively communicated to attendees. You should brief staff on:
- inclusive language guidelines
- locations of viewing areas, accessible facilities, paths, ramps, pick up and drop off zones, entrances and exits, lifts, quiet spaces, and other features
- whether captioning or hearing loop technology is available
- maintaining the line of view from the front row, reserving the front of the accessibility viewing area for patrons who are wheelchair users and their family and friends or for people who have very limited mobility and need to sit down for the entirety of your event
- information about both the accessible and inaccessible features of the event
- information about the rights of people using assistance dogs
- emergency evacuation procedures
- details of a designated contact person for any queries relating to accessibility.