Prioritizing accessibility at your event not only shows you care about your attendees but also opens to the door to so many new attendees who have been considering your event but were unsure of proper accommodations.

Whether it's website accessibility, dietary restrictions or simply being able to get around your venue, there are a few simple changes you can make to welcome a whole new audience. If fact, you're probably already doing a few things and just need to make them explicit.

This week we chat with Chris Schmitt & Ari Stiles, a duo who have been consulting and producing their own accessible events for over a decade.

Things You're Probably Already Doing

Taylor McKnight: Even your conference production company, Environments for Humans, speaks to empathy and compassion. What does accessibility look like in the event space?

Ari Stiles: Travel is physically difficult for a lot of folks. Whether it’s a chronic illness or a disability, having an online event can help with that. What I see happen a lot is people treat accessibility like this great unknown.

They think accessibility as something expensive. It's not nearly as complicated as people seem to think it is.

Some things are relatively easy to do. Chris works with Knowbility, an accessibility consultancy, so we’ve been to a lot of accessibility focused conferences, in addition to throwing our own online events.

Since the people that are putting on an accessibility conference are familiar with accommodations, they provide those considerate elements without thinking about it, right?

So the people that need accommodations only end up going to accessibility conferences, because they feel welcome there, and they’re not going to have to ask for anything special.

It becomes a silo problem, where accessibility conferences attract people who need accommodations and vice versa.

Taylor: That’s really interesting.

Ari: It’s so strange because it’s a lot of the same subject matter, they just happen to have the accommodations there.

Just about every hotel is an accessible facility. It’s not much more effort to add captioning. It’s even easier for online conferences to add captioning. It’s a small extra bill and it adds so much more to the conference, you have a transcript after.

Code of Conduct & Diversity Statement

Ari: If you have a code of conduct and stick to it, that accommodates a lot more people than you realize.

A lot of people think that’s just about harassment or being more diverse, but really you’re creating a welcoming environment.

That is a huge barrier removed for a lot of people that might otherwise feel uncomfortable.

Taylor: Accessibility encompasses a lot. How do you decide which areas to focus your efforts?

Ari: Two things I think that you can do before you start selling tickets is to have a code of conduct and diversity statement built into your site.

A lot of people think, “Oh, I’m going to have to hire an interpreter for every single room.” Or, “I’m going to need captioning in every single room.” I mean, it’s great if you get a big sponsor that will cover that, but really it’s often just including a form on your site where people say, “Oh, this is something that I need.” And a lot of it is stuff that you’re already doing.

Just having those two things built into your event website reassures people that know that they need some level of accommodation. “Wow, they thought about those two things.”

Taylor: The brown M&M rider of accessibility?

Ari: Exactly!

Dietary Restrictions & Food Vendors

Chris: There should be someone who’s not going to drop the ball in the food area because if you don’t have accessibility or dietary issues, you might not be as aware of those limitations. You don’t want someone to go hungry.

Taylor: Which is another reason to have those initiatives in the first place, right? Adding that diversity to your event helps your whole audience have better awareness and empathy for others.

Ari: Your food vendors should be aware of all of this, ask them for help. It was a huge red flag for me to sit down with a food vendor once and I realized they didn’t know the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian.

The escape valve for not working with a food vendor is just give people a longer time to eat, and let them go pick what they want. So then you don’t have to worry about everybody's dietary issues.

Website & Ticketing

Chris: Make sure your website is accessible. There are some vendors out there who sell tickets and their site is not accessible. Meaning their order button is not right.

I had someone call me up and complain because they didn’t know where the order button was, and I didn’t understand until I was listening to his screen reader try to find the order button and it wasn’t there because of the way the site was built.

So I had to find some other alternative method  just so they could attend my event. They were so interested in my event, they called me up!

Checklist of Easy Ways to Make Your Conference More Accessible:

  1. Ask your venue if it's accessible. If it's a hotel, chances are it already checks out. If the venue isn't accessible, create a plan for how your attendees will get around.
  2. Post a Code of Conduct on your event website.
  3. Post a diversity statement (or program) on your website.
  4. Make sure your website and ticketing are accessible.
  5. Include a space on the registration form for attendees to make note of accessibility requirements/questions.

Overall, communication is most important. You'll never predict everything ahead of time but showing your intention to accommodate attendees goes a long way into creating a welcoming environment.

Want to hear more from Chris & Ari? Follow their conference, Environments for Humans, for any new updates and consulting work.