Making Events Accessible for People With Disabilities

July 16, 2017 | Sarit Cahana, AAPD In-House Intern

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a rally for people with disabilities at the Capitol that wasn’t accessible to many of my peers with disabilities. This was surprising to me, at first. Accessibility is not the first priority when planning events. This is true even when the event is for those who need that access. Planning accessible events can be tricky when many different needs have to be addressed. This is tricky because disability communities are very diverse and some people have multiple disabilities and accessibility needs. While it is tricky to figure out the best way to be accessible, having none or flimsy accommodations is not acceptable.

I am Hard of Hearing, and had trouble hearing what the speakers were saying at this rally. They had an interpreter, but my sign language abilities are very limited. While I wished I had better accommodations, many people had a lot less access than I did. During a discussion lead by Kelly Buckland, Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living, for the AAPD’s Summer Internship Program I realized how much the rally needed to improve on accessibility. Many of the summer interns brought up important points about how they felt the organizers of this rally could have improved their accessibility. Some recommendations that were brought up during this discussion were to have better accessible paths. The location did not have good access for those who use mobility devices and many people had to take a roundabout route to get to the spot where we were. The tall grass was also hard for those who use wheelchairs or other mobility disabilities. Signs should be accessible for those who have vision related disabilities. The microphone stopped working and the speaker had to use a megaphone, which was hard for many to hear. Some also had trouble seeing the interpreter so having a raised platform to be able to see the speaker and the interpreter is very important. There also weren’t accommodations for or mentions of those with mental illnesses, who typically get excluded from the disability community. Finally, we talked about how it can also be hard for some people to be in large crowds so having a way for them to participate is also important. The accommodations I noted was an interpreter and letting people who needed to be in the front do that. This is very helpful for many, but still limited. The disability community is very diverse with many different needs so accessibility can’t be limited.

Almost every person I’ve talked to in this community has a story of going to any event inside or outside of the disability community and not being able to participate, engage, or even physically enter the space. I know from personal experience how exhausting it is to have to make sure that I’m always able to participate and also trying to fix it when I’m not. It’s hard to learn to be a self-advocate and it’s very easy to give up. When planning events, many people put the responsibility of accommodations on the disabled person and not on the event planners. Accessibility is not often a priority and often feels like an afterthought. Many excuses, from expenses to forgetfulness are given. It is uncommon for many to be educated on how to make their events accessible when they should be. Excuses don’t give people free passes. It’s on all of us, disabled or able-bodied to make sure everyone is included.

An important way to improve accessibility is to have people with diverse kinds of disabilities participate in planning the event or even just providing information. In this way, assumptions aren’t made about what is needed. Always leave room for input and ask for it. Accessibility is always changing and it’s important to be open about people’s needs. Leave time to get the accommodations needed. This is not a last minute endeavor. Think about the physical place and if it is accessible, think about the activities going on and if they are accessible. Make sure the disability community’s voices are heard, especially if you’re having an event for a broader audience. Have accommodations ready. Don’t just wait for someone to be excluded to start being accessible. Being conscious of accessibility takes time and practice, but it is vitally important.  The ADA National Network offers a useful resource on planning accessible events: A Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People with Disabilities.

Working towards a brighter future for disability rights starts with making sure everyone has the access they need. Events specifically for those with disabilities it is even more vital to provide everyone with the accessibility they need. It is important for everyone in this community to feel invited and included. An important way to keep this diverse community strong is to pay attention and listen to everyone’s needs. Everyone needs to do this. People with disabilities don’t get to be excused from this expectation just because we also have access needs. Able-bodied people don’t get to be excused because they are unaware of our needs. Everyone is accountable for making sure our events are accessible. No one should get left behind, especially because we are stronger together. Better access will help us unite further. This is vitally important because we have so much more work to do.


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Sarit Cahana is an 2017 AAPD in-house summer intern. She joined AAPD through the Machon Kaplan Summer Internship Program hosted by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

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