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Planning an Event? Here Are 6 Reasons It Really Needs to Be Accessible

Living Well

December 13, 2022

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Photography by Hernandez & Sorokina/Stocksy United

Photography by Hernandez & Sorokina/Stocksy United

by Lizzy Sherman

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Medically Reviewed by:

Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT

•••••

•••••

by Lizzy Sherman

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT

•••••

•••••

Not only is it the law, but planning an ADA-compliant event shows you care about people living with disabilities.

This fall, the 2022 U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team went straight from being honored in Washington D.C. to attending a Formula 1 event as a celebratory group activity.

Though the teammates had purchased ADA seats — seating compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, designated for those with disabilities — once they arrived at the Formula 1 venue in Miami, it became clear that the event was not accessible.

Allie Johnson, a member of the team who attended the event, says that getting to the ADA-compliant seats was a journey filled with obstacles — from elevators that weren’t working to difficulty even leaving the venue itself due to inaccessible buses.

The team went from feeling on top of the world after meeting the president of the United States to feeling like a nuisance and non-priority, Johnson says.

The Formula 1 organizers handled their inadequate planning as best they could, making adjustments for accessibility over the next few days of the event.

“The day of the race, we got to talk to a couple of really nice people that worked at the venue, and they were super apologetic, almost in tears. They understood where our frustrations were,” says Johnson. “They definitely made it up to us and knew we helped them realize the intricacies and importance of accessibility.”

According to the World Health Organization, over 1 billion people live with a disability, and most people will experience a disability at some point in their life. Taking crucial steps to plan for accessibility needs ahead of time will help make your events a success.

Here are six reasons planning disability-friendly events is important — plus ways you can provide a more seamless experience for everyone.

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Good communication makes for a successful event

Prioritizing good communication will help all aspects of your event run as smoothly as possible.

“I think that inclusion, a lot of times, is all about communication and all about being able to see people that are different from you as equals,” says Johnson. “Different doesn’t mean less than.”

Johnson shares that it’s important to have open communication between yourself and attendees about their needs for the event.

One way to achieve this is by having a designated contact that guests can approach to ask questions beforehand. Be sure that people working at the event know who to get in touch with for any issues that may come up in person as well.

Having a point person at the Formula 1 race could have improved Team USA’s experience.

“When we were at this race, we kept saying, ‘OK, so who do I talk to? How do we do that?’ And nobody knew,” says Johnson.

Staff education about accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act is key.

While you shouldn’t be afraid of bringing up what someone needs if they have expressed that they may require certain accommodations, be conscious that people may or may not want to talk about disability.

Johnson suggests saying something like, “Hey, would it be OK if I asked you a few questions about your needs at this event?” or “Is there anything I could help you with?”

If you are planning a smaller event, such as a wedding, Johnson recommends sharing on the invitation who to talk with for any accessibility questions.

Most vital, Johnson says: “Listen to the answer because the answer is more important than the question.”

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It’s the law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that people with disabilities have equal opportunities and aren’t discriminated against in everyday activities.

If you’re selling tickets to an event, such as a concert or sporting event, you must provide the same access to wheelchair-accessible seats and non-accessible seats.

People who may need access to these seats include:

  • people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices
  • people who have mobility challenges due to conditions that cause severe respiratory, circulatory, or cardiac conditions
  • people with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis
  • people who cannot sit in a straight-back chair
  • people with service dogs
  • people with other disabilities

Some features that you should be aware of when planning accessible seating include:

  • accessible approach
  • location and grade
  • clear floor space for wheelchairs, mobility devices, or service animals
  • larger dimensions

Deepen your knowledge

The Americans with Disabilities Act also protects people from discrimination in many other areas of life too, including employment, public transportation, telecommunications, access to businesses, and more.

You can visit ADA.gov to learn about compliance or call 800-514-0301 (Voice) and 833-610-1264 (TTY) to talk with an ADA specialist.

It shows you care

Offering accessible seating, having someone available to sign in American Sign Language, and asking disabled people what they’ll need at an event are all ways you can show you care.

On the other hand, not taking the steps to ensure your event is accessible sends a clear message: A place was not made for them, and they don’t belong.

While it may not be your intention to make anyone feel unwelcome, a lack of accessible seating and accommodations can be an emotional and hurtful experience. It can also lead people to feel embarrassed and stigmatized.

“It shouldn’t take a traumatic experience from your event-goers to open your eyes and make you realize that disabled people are people too,” says Johnson.

(Johnson explains that she respects that other people may want to use people first language that describes what a person has rather than who a person is, but she’s not a stickler about it. “My disabilities are my favorite part of myself, so I do identify as a disabled person,” she says.)

“When you’re not thinking of everybody, then you’re pretty much thinking of nobody,” says Johnson.

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It’s important to think about the whole picture

Details are important when it comes to planning an event, and that means considering if all aspects work together to provide a cohesive experience.

When Johnson and her teammates arrived at the Formula 1 event, though they had purchased ADA tickets, getting to those seats was chaotic and challenging.

If you don’t have a condition that requires accessible accommodations, you may not be aware of everything that is needed. Working with an advocate can help you figure out what should be done to provide a good experience for everyone. (You can find a list of some aging and disability advocates and service providers at acl.gov.)

Johnson says that Formula 1 is talking to her team about having them back next year to walk through the venue ahead of time to ensure the event is accessible.

“It’s tough to know the small nuances unless you know disability, and it’s tough to know disability if you’re not disabled,” says Johnson.

It makes the event safer for everyone

Making an event disability-friendly and accessible allows everyone to participate more safely.

Johnson shares that if someone has a medical emergency and needs to be taken out on a stretcher, not having accessible surroundings can be dangerous.

“It’s not just about people in wheelchairs. It’s not just about amputees. It’s not just about any sort of disability. That’s what I think is so important,” says Johnson.

“And the thing about the disabled community is that at any point, you could become a part of that community. It’s not something you have to be born into. It’s not something you have to be permanently in,” she says. “It’s breaking your leg, it’s getting a brain injury, it’s all sorts of PTSD, it’s all sorts of different things.”

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Providing digital options isn’t an excuse not to make your in-person event accessible

Johnson says that, in a way, the pandemic helped make things more accessible.

“A lot of people felt like how disabled people can feel sometimes — kind of isolated and unable to do what they wanted to do,” says Johnson.

This propelled people to think about ways to make accommodations and realize that they’re doable. One example of this is that more employers allowed people to work from home.

Another change was that more people began hosting events through Zoom, live streams, and other digital platforms.

While providing remote access to events can help ensure that people can attend from anywhere, it isn’t an excuse to skip ADA compliance if you’re hosting your event in person too.

“Zoom is really cool because it does make a lot of things more accessible, but it shouldn’t be, ‘OK, all the able-bodied people can come to this event in real life. You still get to come, it’s just on Zoom,’” says Johnson.

The takeaway

Commitment to planning an accessible event will help ensure a safe, enjoyable, and welcoming experience for everyone.

For more information on how to plan for a successful ADA-compliant event, visit ADA.gov.

Medically reviewed on December 13, 2022

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About the author

Lizzy Sherman

Lizzy Sherman is a writer and editor specializing in health and wellness. Her work has also appeared in Healthline, Medical News Today, Greatist, CNET, and many more.

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