Planning a meeting or event? Have you considered whether it will be accessible for individuals who are hard of hearing/deaf, low vision/blind, or wheelchair users?
Remember, improving access improves the experience for everyone!
Here are some points to consider to help ensure that a diversity of individuals will be able to attend and participate fully.
1. Advertise accessibly. Make sure information about the event is accessible to a broad range of potential participants. Avoid rendering important information solely in images (e.g. in a flyer saved in an image format), which cannot be easily interpreted by screen readers. When using colored text or backgrounds, select colors with sufficient contrast to ensure readability among individuals with low vision or colorblindness. Check whether your advertisement makes sense without audio. When applicable, use known symbols below to encourage attendance by those who may otherwise assume they can't participate.
2. Ask participants and presenters (early!) if they need accommodations. A great way to promote inclusivity at your event is to ask attendees in advance what accommodations might be helpful. And don’t forget to ask the presenters, whose needs might be different. If serving food, ask about dietary restrictions and allergies. If requests can be made through a registration form or other automated mechanism, try it out yourself to make sure it is easy to complete. Simple language on a form can go a long way, e.g.: "Please indicate any accessibility or dietary needs. Requests should be submitted by the following date: __."
3. Distribute electronic copies of handouts to participants in advance. Not only will this help all participants be prepared for your meeting, but also individuals who use document readers will be able to review materials ahead of time. Check out the MIT Assistive Technology Information Center's guidelines for making PDF and Word documents accessible.
4. Promote good presentation practices. Send a gentle reminder to presenters ahead of time to follow accessible design practices when creating PowerPoint slides, including using large text sizes, high color contrast, and slides with titles and consistent layouts. Encourage presenters to speak to the audience, rather than to the screen. Even people with normal hearing rely significantly on visual cues from the moving mouth to process speech.
5. Use captions for video content. Make an effort to use only captioned video. This will promote comprehension among all participants regardless of hearing or language ability.
6. Set up your meeting room to allow easy transfer of information between individuals. Consider whether the furniture in the room is set up or can be rearranged to allow good sight lines between a wheelchair and the speaker. If you have a sign language interpreter, position them near the speaker, so people can see both at a glance. Check whether speaker, interpreter, and projected images are visible from the back of the room, and consider using additional screens if they are not. For events involving small-group discussion, use round tables or chairs arranged in tight circles so that everyone can be more easily seen and heard.
7. Provide adequate lighting. Make sure there is adequate lighting throughout the room for people with low vision, people who lip read, and people who are using a sign language interpreter. Consider not only whether people can see the speaker/interpreter, but also whether there is sufficient lighting for taking notes and moving about the room as needed. If using PowerPoint slides, when possible, dim the lights only around the projector screen to enhance contrast of the projected images.
8. Amplify the sounds you want, not the ones you don’t. Select a room designed to minimize reverberations (echo) so that the speaker can be more easily heard. Low ceilings and soft materials (e.g., carpets, curtains) help in this regard. For meetings with 15+ people, require speakers to use a microphone (even when they object—“I don’t need a microphone. I have a loud voice!”), and test it beforehand to make sure it works!
9. Map accessible routes throughout the building and public spaces. Review the routes that individuals will take between the parking/drop-off area, entrance, meeting room, and restroom. Clearly mark accessible routes and/or position staff members to help navigate. Indicate how individuals can get from non-accessible entrances to accessible ones. Is there an elevator for events on upper floors? Does the registration area have a 36-inch (or lower) counter for wheelchair access? Imagine that you are in a wheelchair—can you move without obstruction between key parts of the building, from accessible parking spaces to the meeting room and other essential locations?
10. Consult with experts. At MIT, a variety of campus resources are available to help you plan and secure needed accommodations for your next event. Consultants at the Assistive Technology Information Center (ATIC) can review your materials for accessibility and provide information about various available assistive technologies. For more help with planning events, consider reaching out to MIT A/V Services, the Campus Activities Complex (CAC), or MIT Conference Services. Student Disabilities Services or HR Disabilities Services can offer general information about supporting students and employees with disabilities at MIT.