It's been 17 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Today, everyone is more attuned to accessibility in all areas, including meetings and events, but meeting professionals need to keep on their guard during site visits and negotiations, as well as during and after a meeting, to make sure that all attendees' needs are taken into account. Use this checklist to provide equal access for special-needs attendees.
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Can the doors of the meeting facility and all points of egress be opened easily by someone in a wheelchair?
Does the facility have handicapped-accessible parking areas?
Do the airport shuttles have lifts for those in wheelchairs?
For hearing-impaired people, does the hotel have portable “emergency kits” that can be taken from room to room as needed? These include things such as a doorbell with a blinking light and a clock or phone with a flashing light or a vibrating signal.
Are copies of the conference program — and other essential things, such as the hotel's restaurant menu — available in Braille?
In case of emergency, does the hotel have evacuation plans and ways to ensure that disabled guests get out safely?
Are there large-print directional signs within the facility?
Are telephones low enough to be reached by people in wheelchairs?
Is a portable TTY (text telephone device) available?
Is an outdoor location accessible for people who are in wheelchairs or use crutches?
Will the hotelinclude language that says the facility complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Before the Meeting
Include an area on your registration form for indicating the need for special assistance, along with space to detail those needs. Staff can then follow up with these individuals to determine how best to meet their needs on-site. This may include anything from providing materials in large print or Braille to sighted guides or sign-language interpreters.
Distribute e-mails in text-only format, which is more compatible with assistive technology such as voice recognition and text-to-speech software. If using color, a blue background with yellow type is most readable.
Assure that all PDFs posted on your Web site are compatible with accessibility software programs. It is a good idea to post text-only versions of these documents as well.
Post information on your conference Web site about local vendors who rent accessibility equipment that will not be offered on-site, such as special mobility devices.
During the Event
Alert hotel staff that you expect attendees with special needs, and ask that extra staff be available on major arrival days as well as at the conference site during meeting hours.
Make certain the front desk managers are aware of any special requests.
Put “ambassadors” in the front lobby to assist guests with special needs, including escorting them to their rooms, to and from meetings, etc.
Make sure that all areas are wheelchair-accessible.
Make certain no loose wires or other hazards are present.
Advise special-needs guests what to do if they need additional assistance. This may include providing a special phone number they can call for immediate help.
Equip computers at the Internet café and in other areas with magnification software and screen-reader software applications that use text-to-speech, sound icons, or Braille output.
Serve boxed lunches whenever possible. If food is served buffet-style, have staff members available to help identify foods and fill plates.
Provide dog runs for guide or service dogs.
After the Meeting
Offer handouts in electronic Braille and DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) formats, as well as on CD-ROM.
Conduct a survey of attendees with disabilities to find out if their needs were met and what suggestions they might have for the future.
For a review of what's fair in an ADA contract provision, check out meeting industry lawyer Jed Mandel's Anatomy of an ADA Provision in the archives at MeetingsNet.com.