The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is committed to facilitate access to communities for persons of disabilities. One in seven Ontarians currently experiences a disability and this number is expected to increase as population ages. Disability is diverse, it might be someone who: has low or no hearing, has low or no vision, experiences a physical challenge, lives with a mental health issue, lives with speech-challenge or struggles with learning demanding.
The purpose of this guide is to provide information for event planners to identify and to overcome access challenges in relations to its participants. Planning access should minimize the need for last minute accommodations and it should foster full participation for persons of disabilities. As well, this is in line with AODAs requirements to ensure disability access for program participants, if the organizer has at least one employee.
• Provide ample notice for the upcoming event to allow people to arrange for transportation, assistants or other supports they may require.
• Include a disability accommodation statement on all event advertising (eg. “For disability accommodations please contact X name, phone number/e-mail by date Z”).
• Include space on registration form or on the event notice for people to identify their accommodations or special needs (eg. “If you have a disability that may require accommodations to participate please indicate here ___. How would you like to be contacted to discuss your needs (phone, email)?” | “Please check the accommodations needed in order to participate: ____interpreting (ASL, oral, signed English) ____large print ____captioned videos ____an assistance dog will accompany me ____a personal care attendant will accompany me ____communication access in real time (CART) ____Braille ____handouts in electronic format ____ wheelchair access”).
• If you are serving food, give participants a chance to request dietary preferences.
• Include contact information (e.g., phone number and e‐mail address) so that attendees can contact you with their special, confidential requests. (see previous examples).
• Follow up with people who request accommodations in a timely fashion to inform them whether or not these will be available.
• Indicate whether there are any fees for admission or materials, note that fees should not apply to any accompanying support persons.
• On posters or information sheets, include international accessibility symbols indicating accessibility (e.g. wheelchair access, captioning, sign language interpretation).
• Promote a scent‐free practice for all events.
• Train event volunteers about how to respectfully assist people with disabilities and to respond to any accessibility issues that may arise.
• Make sure that volunteers are easily identified (use name tags and/or other identifiers).
• Remind your volunteers not to make assumptions about what a person with a disability can or cannot do. Tell them to simply ask, “How may I help you?”
• Book any access supports being provided in plenty of time to ensure availability. (e.g. Sign Language interpreters, real-time captioning, note-takers, attendants etc.).
• Provide interpreters, captioners and note takers with agendas and presentation outlines in advance of the event.
• At the event, be sure the interpreters and/or captioners are introduced and explain what they will be doing during the event.
• If many of your attendees have children and the event is being held during non‐business hours, you may want to offer childcare services.
• If food is provided, ensure the count includes interpreters, attendants, child‐minders, etc.
• Remind participants as well as volunteers and service providers of the scent‐free practice.
• Make sure transport options for getting to the venue are realistic for persons with disabilities (event venue close to public transportation, transit vehicles serving the route should be accessible, knowledgeable to indicate pick-up/drop off areas).
• Provide info about accessible parking and create a sufficient number of accessible parking spaces. Determine approximate distance between accessible parking and the venue. It’s helpful to use arrival, exit and directional signs that are clear and can be read in all light conditions.
• Make sure that wheelchair access is via the main entrance. Alternatively, post clear, legible signs at the main entrance showing alternative, safe and accessible entrances.
• Make sure outdoor and indoor paths are barrier-free (move garbage cans, sandwich boards if needed). Avoid soft, thick pile carpeting or loose mats.
• Make sure persons with disabilities can reach all areas used at the event independently or with assistance from volunteers (e.g., doors, the registration desk, washroom, change room etc.). Check the space inside washroom to see if a wheelchair can manage, check for grab bars and the access to sink, soap and paper towels. Make sure accessible washrooms are available within a reasonable distance.
• Preferably, elevators should have low buttons for wheelchair users, Braille/raised number markings or audible floor announcements for people who are blind or with low vision, and visual floor indicators for people who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.
• Post clear and easy-to-read signs showing locations of accessible washrooms, elevators, phones, etc.
• Allow for easy movement for wheelchair and scooter users (rearrange furniture if needed). Choose a room with wide aisles and plenty of space around tables.
• Include accessible seating areas interspersed throughout the room where possible – front, middle and back.
• Reserve seating for people with various disabilities, and consider the nature of their disability when doing so (people who rely on lip reading will need to sit closer to speakers).
• Provide a variety of chairs with and without armrests if available. Provide seating for those who can’t stand for long periods at events where people will be mostly standing.
• Good lighting (bright, without glare and allows for adjustment).
• Good acoustics (minimal echo). If possible, arrange for provision of Assistive Listening Devices (e.g., an FM system). Wherever possible, try to eliminate or reduce background noise during proceedings.
• Make sure accessible washrooms are available within a reasonable distance.
• Cover electrical cables or cords that cross over aisles or pathways so wheelchair users as well as people who use canes and walkers can traverse easily and safely across them.
• Ensure that all parts of the event are smoke‐free.
• Make sure organizers, presenters and volunteers are aware of emergency evacuation procedures.
Suggestions for effective presenters
• Remind presenters to end meetings or presentations on schedule (important for people making advance transit arrangements and for pre-booked support people).
• Produce materials in large print (16‐point type or larger) and have available electronically in case of a request for such a format.
• It is always good to have a few print copies on hand. Encourage and support presenters to offer copies of their material in different formats before their presentation starts.
• Ideally lectern heights and audio/visual controls should be adjustable to meet the needs of different speakers.
• During the session, presenters should verbally describe contents of videos, or any written materials, including overheads or chalkboard notes for audience members with vision loss.
• Encourage presenters to use captioned videos.
• Organizers or presenters should check with the audience about the need for breaks.
Food and Refreshments
• If it is a buffet-style event, be sure to place food, drinks and utensils in easy reach of a person using a wheelchair.
• Provide bendable straws as well as some cups with handles. People who have limited use of their hands have difficulty grasping or holding objects such as cups.
• Ask volunteers to offer assistance or seated service to guests with disabilities.
• Do not pet service animals.
• Make sure there is a relief area for them and make sure their owners know where it is.
• Provide a water bowl on hand.
Budgeting the event
• Set aside some funds early in the planning stage for accessibility and in the event of requests for communication supports and accessible formats. event
Evaluating the event
• Be sure evaluation forms are accessible and include a section about accessibility of the event. This can provide valuable information for use in planning future event plans.