07 June 2017

Accessibility Planning for Your Next Event

Is Accessibility on Your Event Planning Checklist?

If you plan events, you probably have (or will create) a thorough list of things you need to do – book the venue, arrange for speakers or entertainment, choose the menu, etc. Here’s another item for the list – when your organization is planning an event, do you consider accessibility so that people with various disabilities are able to attend comfortably?

What is Considered a Disability?

According to Cornell University’s Guide to Planning an Accessible Event:

“Disabilities are physical or mental impairments that limit one or more major life activities, such as walking, seeing or hearing. (They) present themselves in many forms. Some are visible but most are not apparent. Non-visible disabilities include partial sensory impairments, such as low vision or hearing loss, chronic medical conditions, 2 mental health conditions, and learning disabilities. According to the U.S. Census, 20 million of 68 million families in our country have a member with disabilities. People with disabilities are the largest minority of the U.S. population.”

After reading that, images of sign language interpreters, closed-captioning on screens and accessible restrooms may have immediately popped into your head. These are definitely some things to consider, but let’s start from the beginning.


Accessibility Concerns When Planning an Event

Advertising the Event

Make the contact person for accessibility concerns obvious in your event literature. Let people know to get in touch with accessibility or dietary concerns at least three weeks prior to the event so you have enough time to plan for them.

If there are challenges for a venue and you are unable to hold the event elsewhere, note these specifically so people can plan for them.

Make sure your event website, mass emails and other electronic marketing meet web accessibility standards.

In the event program, let people know where to go for accessibility concerns or challenges during the event. If providing a map of the venue, point out elevators, ramps and accessible bathrooms.

Arriving at the Event Entrance

Is there somewhere that is close to the facility for unloading or dropping off attendees? Are there stairs involved and if so, is there a ramp nearby that may be used? Are there curb cuts in place?

Are there accessible parking spaces? How many? If only street parking is available, do you advertise that on event literature so people can plan?

Are there any other obstructions that might make it difficult for someone to enter the facility? Doors that are too heavy or that have latches that are difficult to use without fine motor skills? Areas that are too narrow to fit a wheelchair through? Uneven or cracked sidewalks? Carpets or mats that are more than a ½ inch thick (and are they sufficiently secured to prevent tripping)?

Woodland hotel - Spacious conference room with chairs.jpeg

Inside the Venue

Can all areas be accessed without using stairs of any kind? Are ramps, elevators or wheelchair lifts available where stairs are used to access event space? Are there handrails on ramps?

Are registration tables and other surfaces within reasonable reach of someone sitting in a wheelchair? Don’t forget about high top tables used sometimes at receptions – consider having several styles of tables available in these situations.

Is seating fixed or movable? Could a wheelchair be easily inserted into the room? Are seats wide enough to accommodate people of a larger size? Is there enough space between seats, rows or tables that people using mobility devices or people of a larger size could easily maneuver through?

Will you make audio-visual alternatives available? Sign language interpreters, closed captioning, microphones for speakers, large print handouts, print alternatives provided in advance, assistive listening devices, etc. There are many options available, but most require that you know your audience in advance, so try to learn that information if possible.

Are there accessible restrooms? How many? Are the water fountains equally accessible?

Catering and Meals

Will meal options be available for everyone, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free? Can you make arrangements for alternative meals for people who have specific food allergies?

If using buffet service, are the serving containers reachable for someone sitting in a wheelchair? If impossible, will someone be available to assist anyone having difficulty with plating their meal?

buffed food closeup of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish arranged on banquet table.jpeg

Additional Resources

This is not an exhaustive checklist, but it’s enough to get you started in planning an accessible event. There are many resources available online, some of which were used in the writing of this article:



Guest Author info: Cindy Leonard is a consultant, speaker and trainer with a nonprofit concentration. Her deep specialty is nonprofit technology, particularly WordPress web development. She is a full time employee of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at RMU. Cindy blogs about a variety of topics, including nonprofit technology, WordPress, nonprofit management, training and events of interest, at

Amar Trivedi

President and founder of AmDee, Amar provides insight of nonprofit technology through occasional guest blogs for AmDee and others. He has been a software developer and architect since the mid-1990s.