Planning an Accessible Event

What Programs must be Accessible?

Every type of program, meeting, exhibit, tour and event, whether held for the NC State community or open to the public, must consider the access needs of persons with disabilities. This includes all NC State sponsored activities held off campus. There is also an obligation to ensure accessibility to events that are sponsored by an outside person or organization that is held at a NC State facility. If you are involved with coordinating the use of NC State facilities with outside groups, you should discuss whose responsibility it will be to ensure accessibility and accommodations. Agreements for using NC State facilities should clearly specify which party will assume responsibility for these obligations at the event.

Who is responsible for disability access to an event?

Event planners are responsible for planning and providing for the accessibility needs of participants with disabilities at any event sponsored on behalf of the University. Advance planning for accessibility will maximize the opportunity for all to participate and minimize the need for last minute and perhaps costly changes. For instance, if an event requires bus transportation, there is no extra cost for requesting a wheelchair accessible bus in advance. If an accessible bus is not requested but a participant requires a wheelchair accessible bus, alternative transportation options will have to be provided and usually will not result in an equitable experience for the participant with a disability.

Who is responsible for any expenses associated with providing disability access?

The costs associated with disability access are considered part of the overall expense of the event. Event planners should include the expense of any anticipated accommodations as a budget item in the event planning. Most accommodations can be made at little or no cost, such as choosing a wheelchair accessible venue for the event. Accommodations such as sign language interpreting will incur a cost. Event planners who think the cost of the accommodations cannot be supported by the event should discuss alternative funding sources with their supervisor or advisor. Before denying any accommodation requests, event planners should consult with a member of the ADA Coordinator Team.

Advice for Accessible Event Planning

The following suggestions will help you plan an accessible event and be prepared for requests for disability accommodations and modifications. The ADA Coordinator Team is available to answer questions you may have about access or an individual’s request for accommodations.

Publicity and Pre-Registration

The key to making events accessible and meeting compliance obligations is to communicate well about access before the event. Include a disability accommodation statement that invites participants with disabilities to ask for accommodations in advance of the event in all pre-event publicity and registration materials. This will enable the event planner to arrange most of the accommodations and services in advance.

The disability accommodation statement should provide an event contact email and phone number. Sample statement:

“In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, NC State will honor requests for reasonable accommodations made by individuals with disabilities. Requests can be served more effectively if notice is provided at least 10 days before the event. Direct accommodation requests to _________________.”

Sample Registration Accommodation Checklist

I will need the following accommodations in order to participate:

  •  ASL Interpreter
  • Communication Access in Real Time (CART services)
  • Large print
  • Braille
  • Wheelchair access
  • Assistive Listening Device
  • An Assistant will accompany me
  • Closed captioned videos

Pre-registration for an event provides an opportunity for event planners to give more detail about their event. A comprehensive description of the event, including location, environmental conditions, services available, etc. will provide for the most effective planning. Information that is helpful to know is the distance to parking areas, the availability of transportation services, whether the venue is air-conditioned, if hearing assistive devices are available, scooter or wheelchair availability, and the availability of food options for persons with food allergies.

If an event includes overnight lodging, the event planner should investigate the accessibility features of the lodging.

Responding to Requests for Accommodations

Focus on the access issue and needed accommodation, not the disability of the participant. When a participant requests an accommodation, respond back as quickly as possible. It may take several communications to work through the details of a particular request. In some circumstances, several options may be available to address an access need. The option preferred by the participant should be given primary consideration. If that option proves difficult to provide or you have a question about whether it is a reasonable accommodation, consult with a member of the ADA Coordinator Team.

Choosing a Physically Accessible Location

Schedule your event in wheelchair accessible buildings and rooms. Conduct an on-site visit to evaluate the facility. Wheelchair access must be available in all portions of the venue that participants will be using, including the speaker’s area. An accessible restroom should be within 200 feet of the event location. Braille and tactile signage should be available for directional assistance. Survey the location for accessible parking and an accessible path of travel from the parking area. If the event is held in a location with no close available parking, identify a method of transportation that will assist attendees with getting to the event location.

If you must host your meeting in an inaccessible location or one in which access is not easily achievable, communicate the access plan for participants with disabilities in your pre-event publicity. Be sure to include a contact number for questions about access to the venue.

Accessible Room Set-Up

Once an accessible site is selected, the meeting room furniture must be arranged so that people who use mobility devices (e.g., wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, crutches, canes) can maneuver throughout and use the amenities independently; people who are blind or have low vision can navigate easily and safely; people who are deaf or hard of hearing can use assistive listening systems and see speakers, interpreters, and captioning; and all participants feel comfortable and ready to be engaged in the event.

Accessible Presentation of Meeting Content

Presenters at your event may also require accommodations. As the Event Planner, you should ask presenters if they have any access needs. You should also request that presenters design their program for a diverse audience. If a presentation includes visual content (e.g., powerpoint presentation, video, or printed charts and graphics), it will be necessary to have the visual content prepared in an alternate format (electronic format, Braille, large print) for people who are blind or have low vision. If presentation materials are provided to participants in print, the handouts must also be accessible in alternate formats, if requested. It is also necessary to have the narration of any films or videos captioned or interpreted for guests who are deaf or hard of hearing. If the video is not captioned, sign language interpreters or real-time captionists may be needed for access to video content of the meeting.

Addressing Communication Access Needs

Attendees who require communication access often cannot use the telephone and are able to convey their needs more effectively by email. Not all persons who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing know sign language and many will prefer to have the event captioned by a CART reporter. Attendees should be asked for their preference of communication access and every attempt should be made to meet that request. Attendees who are Hard of Hearing may benefit by the use of an assistive listening device which amplifies the voice of the speaker.

If using the services of a sign language interpreter:

  • Provide reserved seating in the front of the event for the attendee and companions.
  • Sign language interpreters should be situated in the front of the room proximate to the speaker and within the sight line of the Deaf attendee so that both the interpreter and speaker can be viewed simultaneously.
  • A spotlight should be on the interpreter if the lighting in the room is dimmed.
  • Provide an advance copy of presentation so that the interpreter will be well prepared to sign any specialized vocabulary and names.

If using the services of a CART reporter:

  • CART reporters will require some space for equipment set-up.
  • Reporters using projection equipment should be situated in close proximity to the projection unit.
  • Provide an advance copy of presentation to CART reporter to prepare him/her for any specialized vocabulary and names used in presentation.

If a visitor is using an Assistive Listening Device, the amplification will only come for the microphone of the speaker. If there is a question/answer session, the speaker should repeat the questions for the audience.

Staff Awareness and Sensitivity

Being prepared can help you handle unexpected requests. Despite all possible efforts to create an accessible event, some participants may request accommodations at the event. NC State is obligated to make its best effort to provide access if the request is reasonable and can be readily accomplished. Staff awareness and sensitivity are essential to successfully complying with this obligation.

Be conversant with the terms used to convey positive communication with persons with disabilities. Terms such as “wheelchair bound” and “handicapped” are examples of outdated terms that present disability in negative terms. More information about People First Language and tips on communicating with and about people with disabilities can be found online.

On-site Registration

Registration workers should be well-informed about how to provide accommodations and where to obtain services. Staff should know the answers to common questions such as:

  • “Where is the accessible restroom and water fountain?”
  • “When traveling around campus, how do I find accessible paths of travel?”
  • “Are there Braille directional signs in the building?”

During the Event

Event staff should be apprised of the general obligation to provide accommodation for people with disabilities. Staff should be prepared to offer assistance (directions for drop-off and accessible parking, seating or using the amenities of the building, etc.).

Additional Resources and Information