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Top 10 Practices to Center Accessibility

Charles Baldwin, Program Officer

Community Access to the Arts' Spring 2016 showcase "Wallflowers" at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA.
Community Access to the Arts’ Spring 2016 showcase “Wallflowers” at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA.

Organizing an event? Here are 10 practices to center accessibility:

  1. The PLAN
    From the start, make access part of the discussion. Spend time planning before spending money. Yes, this includes the budget: always be considering communication access and physical access – and not as a single line item but integrated into the event step-by-step. Having a plan is a risk management strategy that intentionally anticipates AND addresses legal obligations.
  2. The SITE
    Be physically accessible. Really. The front door, the bathrooms, the galleries, the street, the vendors, the stage, the VIP suite, the green room. For every place of assembly, do you have a place of refuge? Is there shade or water? What are the methods for arrival and departure?
  3. The CONTACT
    Having a designated person to respond to issues, queries, requests, and complaints will really boost your customer service. This person is also the connector between all the moving parts of your event.
    No matter how you invite or inform people, you want to be sure to highlight your accessibility features. Don’t tuck your hard work away – keep it front and center. Provide the contact info for accommodation requests. Methods for capturing patron emails or contact info based on an RSVP are worthy endeavors. Be sure to include the access symbols for what accommodations you offer… don’t say you’re fully accessible if you mean you are physically accessible. Be candid in your assessment of your provisions… and share them!
  5. The TRAVEL
    Wherever your event occurs, remember that an event site is not static, but is dynamic; meaning how you arrive and how you leave the event is under your purview too. Research all your travel possibilities including car travel (parking AND accessible parking), public transport, rolling and walking routes of travel, and safe drop-off zones. If your event concludes in the evening, what is the lighting that is provided? Are paths of travel at the event clear and safe?
  6. The CREW
    An informed and empowered staff/volunteer crew will make all the difference. Practice saying “yes”.  Commit to training on all tech resources you are offer. Work through expressions of bias that may include infantilism or a reparative approach so to focus on customer service of the highest order. Bilingual? Trilingual? Always great to have volunteers reflect the communities in attendance. How do you recruit your volunteers?
  7. The COMMUNICATIONS Strategy
    Communicate honestly/candidly about the event – giving potential patrons/participants the info they need to attend… or not. Be aware of curbs, slopes, surfaces, counter heights, seating. Always include the accessible features you offer or provide. Think about user testing…. this will fine tune your offerings and could create generous quotes to engage others. This could also be a step towards partnerships that improve services, broaden messaging, and build audiences. Sending out a “know before you go” to prepare your guests for all aspects of the event is advised.
    So just what accommodations do you provide? Are you ready for interpreter requests? Can your volunteers use descriptive language? Are routes for wheels clearly delineated on a map? Are children welcome? Is there a first-aid tent? Where are the power outlets? Making this information readily available to your guests is key. Make sure your staff is up-to-date on all the information to empower them to help during the event.
    How can you make sure all your guests feel safe? Remember, food allergies can provide a real threat to those with severe allergies – is this a Nut Free event? Are there quiet spaces for those with social anxiety or sensory sensitivities? Are there ear plugs available? How about ungendered bathrooms? These safety details will create a “bold space” for people to feel empowered to engage and participate in your events, time and time again.
    Invite critiques for they are the path towards improvement. Cultivate a culture of trial and error – be innovative! The one requirement of the first step towards accessibility, is the second step… and the third. Start working on your committees and recruiting for your task force.

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