Wednesday, October 16, 2019

How to Plan Events That Prioritize Accessibility

Color Communication Badges by Button Justice League, on Etsy
[Image Description: Three 1.5 inch pinback buttons each with a vivid color,
a bold black word and a black shape underneath the text. From left to right:
a "Red" button with a octagon, a "Yellow" button with a triangle,
and lastly a "Green" button with a circle.] 

Lydia X. Z. Brown

[Note from Lydia: This originally appeared on Twitter as a thread on 4 June 2018, and is an incomplete list of suggestions.]

Some tips on access-centered event/program organizing/planning (some are mine; many I learned from other fabulous folks):

(1) When you put information about the event online, whether on (a) a website, (b) in email announcements, or (c) social media, only include images if you include alt-text and text-only captions.


(2) Don't rely on online/email/social media to get the word out.


Call people too. Many comrades with intellectual disabilities strongly prefer phones, even if they can use the internet and email. (And many can't and/or are actively deprived of access or training.)

(3) Visit any physical location IN-PERSON before confirming it.


If you're not familiar with access, bring comrades who are blind, low-vision, physically disabled, and/or users of mobility aids with you. If you have money, PAY them for this work.

Only host in accessible locations.

(4) If you're planning and able to put any money down, budget for ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation, CDIs (Certified Deaf Interpreters), and CART (Communication Access Real-Time Translation) captioning in advance, from the get-go.


If you don't have access to funds, plan to secure volunteer interpreters/captioners in advance. Like, at least weeks in advance if not more.

(5) Don't put up promotional videos, live videos, or videos afterward, unless they're captioned and transcribed.


For live videos, it's OK to ask community members (ahead of time) to volunteer to live-caption.

(6) Tell people in advance, in writing, out loud, online, any/everywhere, to arrive scent-free. Give pamphlets with pictures if people need help understanding.


Don't ask for it as a preference; enforce it for the health and SAFETY of participants and community members.

(7) 24 hours before an event, check any/all bathrooms, public areas, etc. for artificial fragrance dispensers and REMOVE them.


Day of, bring baking soda so attendees who forgot or ignored message can be scent neutralized by putting some over their clothing.

(8) If your event/program is public, make sure any printed materials are available in LARGE PRINT (at least size 20 font if not larger) and Braille, in advance, even if no one asks about it ahead of time.


(9) Encourage people to use name tags. All of us who are sighted but faceblind (prosopagnosia) will thank you.


Create an (unobtrusive) opportunity to add pronouns to name tags, but don't require it or pressure people to do so.

(10) Consider who is leading and organizing your event/program.


If this is a demonstration and/or rally, are community members most/directly impacted by the issues the ones leading the charge/call to action, or choosing the speakers/slogans/leaflets?

(11) If this is a conference, community education event, or really anything, is your organizing group or speaker lineup all pale, stale, and male?


Similarly, did you just look for a single token person with one or more marginalized identities, but do no relationship-building?

(12) Consider using communication badges (social interaction badges). This system was originally developed by autistic folks and cousins at Autism Network International, alerts others to a person's dis/preference for social interaction with others.


Imperfect but still helpful.

(13) If the event is taking place in a physical space, give information about which entrances have level entrances vs. which don't (and if stairs, how many stairs); public transit access; and parking.


(14) Provide childcare. Plan for this in advance, both in terms of money and/or community volunteers. Advertise this.


(15) Enable opportunities (but not pressure or requirements) for young children to participate/be present in your event/program as well!


(16) If you're providing food, share menus in advance, including ingredients (as much as possible).


Provide phone and/or email for the caterer or community member preparing food so folks can ask about food.

At minimum, try to have GF, dairy-free, vegan, certified kosher, AND meat options.

(17) Day of: Label each food item by ingredients in large print and Braille, with special attention to common allergens.


Make calorie/nutrition information available but not displayed prominently.

(18) Announce in advance, repeatedly, in writing, online, out loud, and during any event/program, NO flash photography AT ALL.


Strictly enforce policy by asking people who can't/won't follow policy to leave.

This is a health and safety issue. Some people with epilepsy could die.

(19) If your program/event costs money to go to, make it sliding-scale or pay-what-you-can on an honor system.


You can tell people how much it would cost to break even (i.e.,  "break-even fee would be $65/person") and then let them decide how much they can afford in advance or at the door.

(20) Remember when ASL and CDI interpreters are present, they are there for benefit of HEARING people, not only d/Deaf, HoH (Hard of Hearing) or DeafBlind people.


If you don't sign, you need and benefit from the interpreters.

(21) If there's talking, as in a meeting or a big public rally, have only one person talk at a time. Otherwise interpreters can't keep up. Deaf/HoH/DeafBlind people can't keep up. People with auditory processing disabilities can't keep up.


(22) Use the microphone. It's an access issue.


Don't just assume you don't need one because you can project. I can project VERY well. I still need to use the microphone unless everyone in a space explicitly states they do not need or want it.

(23) If you have sound equipment, check, test and configure it BEFORE the event to make sure there is as close to zero chance of accidental microphone/speaker feedback as possible.


Please don't unnecessarily send autistic community members into meltdowns.

(24) If this is a whole giant conference or retreat or summer program, etc., don't follow these tips for the disability session/strand only.


These tips apply to your WHOLE event/program. Disabled community members deserve to have meaningful access to all parts of your thing.

(25) If you make videos/audio available online after the event/program, don't do so UNTIL you can release the captions and transcript.


Deaf and Disabled folks have to wait all the time for delayed and/or denied access.

We promise your abled community members can wait too.

(26) If this is a protest, demonstration, rally, or direct action, tell EVERYONE participating the plan IN ADVANCE.


You can maintain operational security and also not put multiply marginalized community members at unnecessary risk.

Examples following:

  • Tell folks if it's going to be an arrest action. Give option for folks who can't risk arrest but want to be physically present.
  • Tell folks how much walking will be involved, in distances, not minutes or time estimates. (Scout out the route in advance for accessibility.)

(27) Remember when people disappear and/or go missing that oppression often works by enforcing isolation.


Be extremely wary of snitchjacketing as a tactic used to sow distrust and break up organizing.

If concerned about a specific person without evidence, you can be careful without excluding them.

(28) Whether it's a march or a conference, TAKE BREAKS. (At least 10-15 minutes every hour, and at least 30 minutes every 2 hours.)


Plan for those breaks.

Have water and other liquids available.

Don't claim to be accessible, because you'll almost certainly miss something (so will everyone).


But you can be specific:
  • Fragrance free
  • No flash photography
  • Level access to all conference space
  • ASL interpretation
  • CART captioning
  • Contact X for further access requests
And you can include a statement that you are striving to be access-centered in your organizing so that all Deaf and Disabled community members can participate in every way.