Making physical events accessible

As event organisers, it is our responsibility to make events as accessible as possible by removing any barriers that make attendance either impossible, uncomfortable or stressful. 

It is important to understand that many disabilities are not obvious (such as chronic pain) and you should therefore be mindful of this when planning all events, not just events where you have been informed of a guest attending who is a wheelchair user, for example. 

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At this point in the planning process you are not likely to have yet sent out invitations or started marketing your event. Therefore, you will not yet have been informed of any access requirements by your potential attendees. It is important to plan, in advance, when choosing your venue. Many University venues are old, and therefore installing such things as lifts are impossible. It is imperative that you do a site visit, walk the route attendees will take to access the venue, look at the size of the rooms, and talk to your venue event manager. Ask the venue if there have been accessibility problems in the past, and how they overcame them. 

You can view details of most University venues and their accessibility.

What to look out for:

  • Venue accessibility – ensure the venues are accessible. Look at the availability of accessible toilets, lifts (and lift size), hearing loops, and adequate access to function rooms.  Wherever possible ensure that all attendees can access the same entrance, independently, with entrance ramps if necessary.  
  • Room sizes – ensure all rooms are easily accessible to attendees, with enough room to accommodate your guest numbers adequately. Think about wheelchair users, and think about comfort levels, and the space required to make people feel comfortable. Include all rooms in your consideration, including lecture rooms, break out rooms and areas for networking, breaks, lunch and dinner. Irrespective of the styles of seating you are providing, ensure there is a choice of seating location and sufficient space in gangways and between rows for wheelchair navigation, guiding blind delegates etc. Remember, not all disabilities are visible, therefore ensure that there is adequate space, fresh air and place to sit and rest.  
  • Car parking – University venues are usually unable to offer car parking facilities to your attendees. However, often the venue will be able to offer parking facilities for those with specific requirements. Always include details of car parking facilities, where appropriate on your website, or in joining instructions, so that attendees can adequately plan ahead. Ensure there are no major obstacles between the car parking space and the venue.  
  • Signage – Make sure that signage to lifts, rooms, toilets as well as general information signage is clear. Ensure that signage is produced with a dark font, and white/light background to ensure visibility to those with visual impairment. Signage should also be placed at a lower level when wheelchair users are in attendance.  
  • Accommodation – When booking bedrooms, always ensure that you book at least one accessible bedroom before you send out your invitations.  
  • Children at events – If you wish to allow children on site, check first with the venue to ensure that this fits with their health and safety policy. Ensure that your risk assessment includes child safety. If children are allowed to attend with your attendees, ensure that you book a quiet, private room for breastfeeding mothers, and a suitable room for baby changing (not the toilets).  
  • Quiet room – Wherever possible, book a room that people can use to be alone. Attendees may want to eat alone or be away from other attendees for periods of time.  
  • Lastly – don’t be afraid to discuss specific requirements with your attendees and be up front with what you can and can’t offer.  

Announce your event in good time.  Some people may have to make more complex arrangements in order to attend.   

Make sure your publicity material is available in multiple accessible formats.  Web pages should comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (scroll down the page). 

If sending invitations you need to ensure your invitations are accessible.  If you are sending your invitations out by using Outlook, please do switch your accessibility tracker on (available on Office 365). This will highlight any parts of your email that you need to change to make it accessible. If you are using Adestra in order to send out your invitation, please ensure that you have your ‘alt tag’ for alternative text for images turned on. 

  • When producing a registration form it is imperative to ensure delegates have an opportunity to tell you of any specific individual requirements. For example, personal support, access or dietary requirements. 
  • Provide a range of alternative registration options. For example, online, telephone, text phone and email. 
  • Make the registration form accessible. For example, the University Events Office uses the University approved Microsoft Forms for the registration process for many events, and this has an immersive reader facility that is also suitable for screen readers.  
  • Once a delegate has informed organisers about their requirements, it is appropriate to contact that delegate to clarify their specific requirements for the event. 
  • Inform participants in good time if difficulties are encountered making individual arrangements. 

When you send out your joining instructions, you should ensure you include the following:

  • another opportunity, to allow people to tell you of any access/dietary requirements. 
  • if you have a website, a link to a page that informs people of all your facilities, to include car parking, hearing loops etc. If you don’t have an event website, simply add this detail in full to your joining instructions. This is very important to allow people to consider the possibility of attending, and take away any stress and worry. 

Depending on the delegates you attract to an event, and any additional requirements they have, it may be necessary to provide additional support. For example: a personal assistant, note taker or British Sign Language interpreter may need to be employed; or documents may need to be produced in alternative formats such as large print, or provided in electronic form, potentially in advance. This activity should always be done in full consultation with the appropriate delegate, as they will be fully aware of their own requirements.

Many services, such as note takers, or personal assistant can be arranged through your own staff and will not cost anything apart from time. However, do consider your budget before you offer sign language facilities, for example.  

Consider any equipment you may need to hire, for instance portable ramps for accessing entrances and staging or height adjustable lecterns.  

For guidance for speakers and moderators at online events please refer to the planning and running an accessible virtual event guidance.  

Brief your speakers and moderators to consider individual attendee needs where appropriate. When appropriate, ensure you have briefed them on best practices for accessible presenting; 

  • For those who are lip reading, it is important for the speaker to be facing the audience without any obstructions so that attendees have a good view of the speaker. Seat those attendees at the front! 
  • Brief speakers to fully describe images and diagrams. 
  • Ensure the use of high contrast slides to aid colour blindness or visual impairment. 
  • Ask your speakers to use large fonts. 
  • Minimise the amount of text on each slide. 
  • Control the speed of animations to ensure adequate description is possible. 
  • Ensure videos are captioned. 
  • Ensure that the Q&A is accessible. It is best practice to use a microphone(s) for Q&A, but with accessibility in mind, brief the speaker or the host to ensure attendees use the microphone.  
  • Provide an alternative method via which participants can ask a question ie via Slido, or tweeting.

Keep in mind that your presenters may also have accessibility needs.  Let them know in advance about the resources at the venue and ask whether they have accessibility needs.   

An increasing number of people are changing their diets due to allergies, intolerances or personal choice. People of different faiths, people with disabilities and pregnant women all have specific requirements regarding food and drink. Remember to delete any recorded dietary requirements, after the event, for GDPR reasons. 

  • Collect information early on your registration form, or on any alternative ways of registration that you are offering.  
  • People with specific mobility issues, or those with visual impairment, may need extra support in collecting food and drink and identifying food. 
  • Allergens must be clearly labelled.  
  • Offer alcohol free alternatives and caffeine free options. Ensure clear labelling. 
  • If any attendees are observing Ramadan, it is necessary to respect their needs. If breakfast and/or dinner is being provided, offer the opportunity for these attendees to eat at a later or earlier time.  

Provide clear directional signage both inside and outside your venue.  All signage should be sufficiently large and clear, dark letters on a light background, and a mixture of capitals and lower case.   

Reserve seating for those who need it.  

Hopefully you will never be in the position where you have to facilitate an emergency evacuation of a venue during your event. However, you will need to plan for all eventualities, consider the individual requirements of your attendees and make appropriate plans, both in your risk assessment, crisis management strategies, and your conversations with your venue manager.  

These guidelines have been produced by the Events Office, Public Affairs Directorate, in collaboration with the Equality and Diversity Unit. 

Guidelines for running accessible online events are also available.

More comprehensive guidelines are being developed by the Staff Disability Advisory Group and will be available soon.