In this blog post shares some of the key takeaways from Kerry Thompson’s webinar on best practices for making your event more accessible to all of your participants. 

Kerry Thompson knows something about being left out of meetings and conferences. She is an advocate for the disability community and is the information and program coordinator for the Disability Rights Fund. Kerry self-identifies as deafblind.

At a recent Conveners member webinar, Kerry shared best practices for meeting planners to improve accessibility at conferences and in overall communications. With new technologies such as plugin captioners, speech to text on iPads, live streaming, text to Braille devices and voice to text services, more people can access your events. However, as we continue to work toward a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem, we can improve our outreach to people with disabilities.

15 ways to make your next business event more accessible.

  1. Ensure the registration process is accessible. Provide contact phone numbers and emails for alternate ways to register. “Please let us know if you need to register in an alternative format.”
  2. Ask registrants if they require accessible devices or services. “If you would like to participate and need special accommodation, please contact …”
  3. Start planning for conference accessibility as much as six months ahead of time, even longer if traveling internationally. Schedule sign language or language interpreters well ahead of time especially if your conference is on a weekday during the school year. Contact local accessibility resources for recommendations and assistance.
  4. Earmark funds for accessibility and accommodations. Categorize types of accessibility needs to help develop a budget.
  5. Identify workshops where accessible accommodations are requested and organize them ahead of time.
  6. Expand your audience by reaching out to people with disabilities who may be interested in your meetings and webinars. Include speakers with disabilities as guest speakers and panelists.
  7. Use Word documents instead of .pdf for conference materials. Fonts on Word documents can be enlarged rather than enlarging the entire .pdf document. Offer conference/meeting materials on a thumb drive.
  8. Describe images on your website and in social media so they can interpreted on text readers. Enable image description settings on Twitter. When uploading videos to YouTube, enable the captioning setting. Users cannot see captions or add captioning if it is not setup at the upload.
  9. Check the physical settings for conferences or meetings, including the building, bathrooms, elevators, hotel and transportation.
  10. Plan for inclusion at the event. Make introductions and facilitate connections between people during event. Ask ahead of time who they would like to meet. Networking may be difficult.
  11. Encourage all participants to be thoughtful of others. Remind everyone to be mindful of pushing in chairs, identifying themselves at table or on a panel.
  12. Create engaging dialog between people with disabilities and people without disabilities.
  13. Add a quiet space for noise sensitive individuals and for anyone needing respite.
  14. Set up a big sign at the registration desk, “Accessibility Questions.”
  15. Have a cart available to move devices and materials from room to room.

Inclusion and Accessibility Are Not the Same

Accessibility is providing basic tools and materials in communications and at events such as interpreter services, live streaming and materials in Braille. Inclusion is respecting the needs of all people and providing a welcoming “place” for all people.

About the Author
Pola Firestone is the relationship manager and affiliate liaison for SourceLink®. Through her outreach work, she has a window into the challenges of building entrepreneurial ecosystems, and uses that knowledge to help inform new products and solutions to the SourceLink network.

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