Making Events Accessible

Guidelines for Making Events Accessible
Access is about providing people with equal opportunity to participate fully in whatever is being offered. Meeting people’s access needs should be done in a positive and affirmative way, which should be reflected in the language we use when discussing access requirements. All disabled people are individual and will therefore have different needs at different times. People with the same impairment/condition may manage it very differently and also have different access needs. However, here are some guidelines that Shaping Our Lives suggest are good practice and generally adopted.

Before a meeting/event
As a matter of good practice all participants should be asked prior to a meeting/event if they have any access requirements. In case people are not sure what sort of thing this may cover the following could be asked as an example:

Format of printed material

  • Braille
  • Standard print
  • Tape
  • Electronic
  • Large print (please circle required font size)

14      16      18      20

  • Other – please say


Do you require any of the following:

  • Lip speaker
  • BSL interpreter
  • Hearing Loop
  • Palantypist/speech to text writer
  • Other – please say


  • Do you require information in a language other than English?


If YES – please tell us which language you would like it in

  • Will you be bringing anyone with you, such as a support worker/ personal assistant?


If YES – Will they need anything?

  • Will you be bringing an assistance dog with you?


If YES – Will they need anything?

  •  Do you need a reserved parking space?
  • Do you have any special dietary needs such as vegetarian, gluten free, nut free, vegan or any other?
  • Is there anything else you might need to enable you to take part in this meeting/event that we haven’t asked you about?

It is absolutely essential that anything people ask for is available at the meeting/event. This means that events/meetings need to be planned well in advance as, for example, palantypists, lip speakers and BSL interpreters cannot be booked at short notice. Hearing loops in venues are notoriously unreliable and thus venues must be made aware of the importance of them working and be reminded of this closer to the event, with testing carried out prior to the event.

An agenda should be sent out in advance of each meeting/event. The agenda should include a paragraph under each heading explaining what will be discussed/covered etc. in this item. This will allow people to think about it or discuss it with a support worker if necessary before the meeting. (Funding must be made available to support this).

Getting to the meeting/event
Disabled people who drive, or who are being driven, need reserved, well signposted car parking nearby. People who take enquiries about public transport to the event need to be able to advise on accessible travel arrangements.

Getting in
Entrances to venues should be level or ramped, and if there are steps as well, these need to have a handrail and preferably step edges clearly marked. Some people with walking difficulties prefer steps to a ramp. Revolving doors are not suitable for wheelchair users or for many other people with different impairments. The position of the entry door needs to be clear, with glass doors well identified. It is a good idea if someone can meet and greet people at the entry into the building. At large events Shaping Our Lives have found that by employing ‘stewards’ who wear clearly marked tabards or T-shirts many potential barriers can be overcome. It is important that the stewards are made familiar with equality and access issues and are able to actively offer assistance.

The Place
Venues should have natural lighting and be well ventilated without air conditioning, which can be noisy and thus be a barrier for many impairment groups.
A ‘quiet room’ should be available so that if any participants want to take ‘time out’ there is a space set aside for this. Make sure all participants know where it is.
Water should be available throughout the event and a supply of plastic drinking straws is useful.
Food should be clearly labelled and not mixed.

During the meeting/event
House keeping: At the start of meetings it should be explained to people where the toilets are (accessible and non), and where the fire exits are. This should be done in an inclusive manner avoiding pointing for example, “over there”, and should take into account different people’s access needs. For example, if the meeting is taking place in an upstairs or downstairs venue how will wheelchair users evacuate in the case of fire, are the lifts operational in fire etc..

Agenda’s must be stuck to so people can follow where they are in the day’s proceedings.

Timing is an access issue. At the beginning of meetings (even if they start late due to unreliable public transport), times of breaks, lunch and ending need to be agreed and stuck to. Timing is a crucial access issues for many reasons. For many service users using public transport requires booking assistance in advance. Assistance is booked for specific times. Catching the next train for example, is not always an available option for many service users. Carer and caree responsibilities can be time specific. Some service users and disabled people might need to take medication at specific times.

During meetings ‘ground rules’ should be agreed. These could include:

  • Respecting each other’s access needs
  • Only one person speaking at a time
  • Person speaking to say their name and to raise their hand or whatever means is accessible to them to let others know they are the speaker
  • Do not interrupt speaker. If this is necessary do so through the chair.
  • Use plain and simple English
  • If you don’t understand what someone is saying, please ask them to repeat it or explain it
  • Be aware that covering your mouth when speaking might make it difficult for people to read your lips or hear what you say.
  • Do not use acronyms for example SOL for ‘Shaping Our Lives’

If it is intended to include people with Learning Difficulties in a truly inclusive way then it is important that this is taken into account when the agenda is planned, as well as in the practice that is adopted in running the meeting/event.

Before the meeting starts it might be a good idea to discuss the need for break times. Some people need regular breaks for a variety of reasons. For example, a break every ten minutes in order for people with learning difficulties to take ‘time out’, talk with their support worker, talk to each other or whatever they wish, might be necessary. This can be positive and have benefits for the entire group and for some specific impairment groups i.e. hearing impaired people who are lip reading or following a sign language interpreter, people with pain who need to move frequently, or those with continence problems. The interpreter themselves may need a break.

It is important that the venue is checked in terms of access. Staff attitudes are a major factor in determining whether a venue is suitable or not. If possible it is advisable to seek personal recommendation from user groups.

Speakers and presentations
Guidelines should be given to any presenters and speakers on how to make their talk as accessible as possible. Some of these will be covered in the ground rules i.e. no acronyms and use plain English. Others include:

  • Power point presentations – hard copy hand outs should be made available, in appropriate formats prior to the presentation.. Information on the screen should be read out. Speaker should make it clear when they are reading what is on the screen and when not. No information should be on the screen which is not made accessible to every member of the audience. This might require simplifying the information presented.
  • Flip charts and feeding back small group discussions. As above.

Making presentations accessible to service users and disabled people usually results in presentations being clearer and easier to follow for all.

It is important to remember that a solution for one group of service users might become a barrier to another impairment group. It is good practice to have more than one option available.

One in four people are disabled. Good practice dictates that all venues should be accessible and that disabled people, like non disabled people, should be able to assume they can get into a building, use the facilities and follow presentations and discussions, without encountering barriers.

Access is about providing people with equal opportunity to participate fully in whatever is being offered.

These guidelines are being up-dated and developed as an on going process.  If you would like to comment on them please contact:

Shaping Our Lives: The national User Network, BM BOX 4845,
London  WCIN 3XX

Tel:             0845 241 0383      

Text users please use TYPE TALK: 18001 0845 241 0383

General email:

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