Planning an accessible meeting

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When you are planning a meeting or event, you want to make sure that everyone can participate, including people with impairments. By planning ahead, you can build accessibility into every aspect of the meeting.

The two main areas you need to consider when planning an accessible meeting or event are:

  • Physical access to the meeting space.
  • Access to the meeting contents and proceedings.

Here are some general things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure that at least one member of your staff is responsible for making the event accessible.
  • A site visit can be helpful in determining appropriate space requirements and accessibility of washrooms.
  • Respond to accommodation requests in the same manner that you respond to other requests and questions about the event.
  • Make sure that the invitation or notice of meeting includes information about the accessibility of the event.
  • Planning for a longer event, such as a conference that will take place over several days, takes more organizing. You'll want to find out ahead of time what resources are available locally, such as:
    • Sign language interpreters
    • Accessible transportation
    • Emergency veterinarians (for service animals)
    • Wheelchair repair services
  • Before you confirm the date of the event, find out if other events are taking place in the area at the same time. This may have an impact on your event and the availability of service providers.
  • As soon as you have confirmed the date of the event, book and schedule sign language interpreters and/or real time captioners.
  • If the event's participants are responsible for their own meal arrangements, find out what local restaurants are accessible.
  • Look into the availability of installed or portable FM Listening Systems (a transmitter used by the speaker and a receiver used by the listener) in meeting facilities for people who have a hearing loss.
  • Find out if telephones with auditory adjustments for people who have hearing loss are available.
  • Check to determine whether there are visual fire alarms. If not, ask about the facility's evacuation plan or create your own.
  • Find out if a TTY (a device used by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate by telephone) is available and make sure your staff knows how to use it.
  • Make sure there is at least one telephone that can be used by a person who is seated (e.g., someone who uses a wheelchair).
  • If you are promoting the event by means of a website, make sure the site is accessible for people who use assistive technologies (such as screen reading software).
  • Check to see if the customer service areas (e.g., counters, display tables, etc.) are low enough so that people who use wheelchairs or scooters can see over.
  • Make sure that any additional signs specific to the event are designed using large print.
  • Find a suitable area where service animals can relieve themselves.
  • Provide water bowls for service animals.

Practical and Sensitive Practice with People with Disabilities

  • Ask members what they need for meetings; e.g., materials in plain language, large print, advisors, and other accommodations, etc.
  • Provide money for travel, (e.g., hotels, flights or bus fares), accommodation, and per diems in advance of meetings - in the form of cash advances.
  • Provide honorariums for their participation, if possible. Many people with disabilities do not have full-time work and are not associated with organizations, beyond being volunteers.
  • Recognize the importance of advisors as an accommodation cost for people with intellectual disabilities. The advisor is equivalent to a language interpreter such as ASL. They serve as “contextual interpreters” making it possible for people to understand language and procedures. Address the person with the disability, not their advisors. They are there as a support, not as full participants. Sometimes they may be asked by the person they are supporting to say something or help express something.
  • Provide plain language note-takers and/or taping of the meetings.
  • Use a sensitive facilitator.
  • In-person meetings are the best. Telephone conference calls are not easy for people with intellectual disabilities. Video conferencing is a much more effective option.

Pre-meeting Tips:

  • Ensure that the location, time and dates for meetings and events, work for all participants.
  • If possible, take the event or meeting to where people are.
  • Provide for skilled plain language note-takers and/or the taping of meetings.
  • Arrange how people will get to and from meetings, e.g., will a support person bring them and pick them up, do they take transit, or need taxi money, are they comfortable with taking a taxi on their own, what will they do when they arrive at the location, how will they get to their room, etc.
  • Provide for all costs.
  • Post large signs directing people to the meeting room(s).
  • Send agendas out ahead of time in plain language and alternate formats.
  • Avoid last minute changes to the agenda.

Meeting Tips:

  • Be sensitive to who facilitates meetings.
  • Always have food to make the event enjoyable.
  • Slow down meetings.
  • Check for understanding throughout the meeting.

Post Meeting Tips:

  • Follow-up and/or set time outside of meetings to discuss.
  • Pursue ongoing dialogue.

Notes on developing an inclusive agenda:

  • Fewer items - Ensure that there are fewer items on the agenda - It takes longer to deal with agenda items, because of the increased time it takes to explain the information, process, reflect, and comment.
  • More discussion - Allow more time in the agenda for discussion. The process is different because it takes longer to get into the issues and to engage.
  • Balance administrative and business objectives of meetings.
  • Pay as much attention to process as you do to agenda items.
  • Build in more breaks, time to stretch, or get up and walk around.
  • Include a fun activity, i.e. an ice breaker, such as “Tell me what one of your favourite things to do is?”