How to make conferences accessible
Assign a person that coordinates accessibility
Have a person on the organizing committee and at the conference who knows about accessibility issues. Ideally this would be a knowledgeable person with a disability.
If you have a disability you may want to volunteer to be the accessibility coordinator.
Advertising and publicity
You may want to say that you're inclusive of disabilities on advertising materials and include a phone number and/or email address of the accessibility coordinator. Alternatively putting the accessibility coordinator's contact information on the conference programme booklet would be worthwhile.
Be mindful of color contrasting
Some people are color blind so all material and signs at your conference should be properly color contrasted. Black text on white backgrounds should be easy to read.
Photos and other graphics in advertising and conference should have a caption below describing them.
Gather information beforehand
Different people have different needs so it's best to ask for people to submit their information before the event. The earlier you get this information the easier it will be to accommodate needs.
Have somewhere to put people's accessibility needs in the registration form and make sure that a list of needs is thoroughly compiled. Make sure that if you cannot accommodate somebody's need you let the person know.
It's best practice to have large print and Braille versions available for those who need them. Ensure that the material will be easy to understand. Using the full worded versions beside the abbreviations the first time that used can also help people.
Consider having the material on your website or privately Emailed to attendees. Some people would prefer to have material in advanced. This is important for people hard of hearing as they cannot read and look at the interpreter simultaneously.
You may want to see if your conference can be held in a city with good public transport and taxis around the city.
Ideally the venue would be close to accessible restaurants and hotels so people could walk/ride between them if they wish.
Ensure that the venue is close to bus stops and other public transport. If a few people that have mobility limitations are coming in from the airport you may want to offer for transport to pick them up together.
Name badges should be easy to read, Sans serif fonts are generally considered easy to read. The font size should be at least 18.
Most venues would have accessible parking and at least one drop off zone but it's good to double check.
The ideal venue would have lifts that say the current floor when it opens and have Braille on the buttons.
Contact a local deaf association for information on how to hire interpreters. Ensure that they have good lighting on them even when darkshow presentations are happening.
They should have a dark and solid background.
Ensure that they're available for any events/meetings people hard of hearing want to go to.
If your conference has sign language interpreters the speakers shouldn't have a fast pace otherwise the interpreters can struggle to keep up. Fast paced speakers can be difficult for other people to understand too.
All presentation should follow the guidelines for material previously outlined in this article.
You may want to give presentations guidelines on the best accessibility practices. You could get them to submit material in advanced and have someone review it so they can request changes or modify the material themselves.
A roving (portable) microphone could help everyone hear people in the audience who have questions for the speakers. If you have a microphone stand on stage ensure that the microphone comes off and the stand height is adjustable.
It’s a good idea to have Ushers at your conference who could escort visually impaired people and those who have problems carrying material.
Have wheelchairs available
You may want to have wheelchairs available for people who need them. These may be worthwhile if senior citizens are going to your conference.
Some people with vision and/or hearing problems would prefer to sit near the front so ensure you can do that for people with that requests.
It's good to offer people who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs the opportunity to sit wherever they like if the space is available.
If there's a stage it's important that people who use wheelchairs or have mobility issues can go up it.
Consider having a 17 minute every 54 minutes as this can help people remain focused. Some people with disabilities may take longer to get back from break so be mindful of that. People with assistance animals would need access to an outside area to toilet their animal.
Consider making available a few private rooms for those that need them.
Food should be clearly labeled for possible allergy conflicts. You should also have gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options.
Some attendees may need plastic straws so ensure that they’re available if needed.
It’s good if you allow people to store their own food at the conference.
If people with assistance dogs are coming consider supplying dog food.
Some people may need to store items such as mobility aids and toilet seats so it would be great if such a place can exist.
Best practices for meetings
If meetings are held as part of the conference you may want to check out our guide for running an accessible meeting
Make sure that off site activities are accessible
Off site meetings and social events need to be held at accessible venues otherwise people can feel excluded. They should cater to people with specific dietary requirements too.
Have an accessible conference website
Your website also needs to follow best practices for accessibility. We have a separate article on accessible websites.
People with disabilities generally are not high earners so you may want to offer discounts on the registration fees and conference events for low earners. Subsidizing travel costs would be appreciated too.
Luckily my dad has been me to conferences and pays his own way. Not everybody can do this. We don't go to international conferences because of the expenses in getting two international flights.
Assistants to attendees
Some people may bring their own assistant; they shouldn’t have to pay the full conference fee. An alternative could be a meal-only option.
Alternatives to attending in person
You may want to live stream the conference/meetings on a platform such as Zoom and have someone monitor the chat for people who ask questions.
Thanks for reading
I hope that I have giving you some good advice for making conferences accessible for people with disabilities.
You may also like to read this document on accessible conferences by SIGACCESS.