Wide shot of Jo standing in front of a powerpoint presentation, addressing an audience in a dark theatre space. She is a caucasian woman with grey hair and is wearing a bright flowery dress.
Photo by Rachel Cherry

Ten top tips for running accessible events

Unlimited, in its current form, has been running accessible events since 2013, and Shape Arts, one of our delivery partners has been doing so for the last 40 years! What have we learnt about accessible events? Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited, gives us her top ten tips…

    1. Start with a basic checklist or guide. There are lots around like this one. And remember to start from social model thinking – if you are running an event, you are responsible for access.  You are also legally responsible so no excuses.
    2. If the event includes any performances, then our Demystifying Access guide might be of help. Aimed at artists and producers it hopes to make providing access to the performing arts easier and clearer, especially on a budget, and explains captioning, BSL interpretation and relaxed events plus more.
    3. If there are any visual or exhibition elements, then take a look at some of the resources Shape Arts have produced on Audio Description.
    4. Think about rest – are you planning a quiet room (also called a rest space or a respite area). It’s a place where people can go if they are overwhelmed, need time out or just want a nap. No phone calls or meetings, so you do need to check in there from time to time, and soft furnishings can be a real help. You could add in Lego, ear defenders, blankets etc or even design your own bespoke space like Battersea Arts Centre did.
    5. Travel is important – parking and drop off points, rail links, taxis that can accommodate all sizes of wheelchairs, lighting outdoors if running an event that ends after dark. The responsibility for access doesn’t start once someone enters your event, it starts as soon as someone wants to attend your event. Are you signposting people to what is available? Do you know what is possible and what’s not? With access, somethings are simply not possible in some spaces. You have to know your boundaries and be clear about them. No point just finding out on the day.
    6. Remote access – whatever you offer, not everyone can travel. So how can people engage remotely? Live stream? Discussion group on line? Twitter? Or are you recording the event and making a transcript or a video available online later (and if so, can there be social media activity around that too?). You could always use a robot too… (we have one if anyone wants to borrow it).
    7. Representation – yup, access is also about what you programme, who you invite to speak, and what your content is. Does it involve disabled people? Is it relevant to disabled people? And have disabled people been involved in designing and shaping the programme in any way? Do disabled people make up the usual audience for your event – if not have you tried running bursaries targeted specifically at disabled people (alongside all the above) to increase representation?
    8. Let people know – if people know what you are providing then they can make their own plans – and add in an email and phone contact and then they can ask if they need more info or a further adjustment too. Have a look at how we handled access for our symposium last year – lots there to help.
    9. Report on access – Evaluate what you offer and tell people how you did. Everyone benefits when we share both our successes and our less that successful experiences. Check out this blog for how we reported on access at one of our events.
    10. Keep learning – Access is an ever evolving area, be it new technology (look at the National Theatre’s access specs) or new requirements such as for those with fatigue related requirements. No one knows everything so keep reading and researching (follow us on Twitter or sign up to our newsletter and we can keep you in the loop with what we know). And if you’ve not done so yet, book yourself some disability equality training and/or download or order a set of Cards for Inclusion and get your teams playing access!

For further insight, watch our short film focusing on accessible recruitment. An audio described version is available here.