Since June 1998, I have used a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury that occurred when I was crushed by a 7,000-pound falling tree while riding my bicycle. Returning to the stage as a professional speaker three months later, I had a new perspective from a 4-foot, 2-inch, seated height. I have attended many meetings and am keenly aware of the problems that people using wheelchairs experience.
Meeting professionals need to know what I have learned in order to make venues and events more accommodating for speakers and participants with disabilities. I have experienced being treated as a VIP—as well as being excluded and ignored. Being ignored is frustrating.
What can you do to help people with disabilities feel welcomed?
Collect Information During Registration
Start by creating a way for people who are registering to communicate that they have a disability which could impact their experience. Ask what accommodations you can provide them.
More: Accessibility Rules: How to Make Everyone Comfortable at Events
For example, does the person:
- use a mobility aid and need an accessible hotel room? What accessible features are preferred?
- need a wheelchair accessible vehicle to transport them from the airport to the venue and off-site locations?
- need a sign language interpreter?
- need printed materials in braille?
Once you are aware that some of the registrants will need to have certain accommodations, it is a good practice to call each individual. Encourage the person to share what they need and reassure them that you plan to provide top-notch service to accommodate them.
Don’t Miss This: Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D., will be delivering her presentation “Accommodating People with Disabilities at Meetings and Events” at MPI World Education Congress in Toronto on June 18, at 4:30 p.m.
The information you receive from this interview will give the planning team direction. Start communicating with all the people who will be providing these accommodations.
Accessible Transportation and Parking
People who use wheelchairs may need accessible transportation to get from the airport to the meeting or event, as well as any off-site locations. Make arrangements with transportation companies that can provide wheelchair-accessible vans.
More: The All-Inclusive Meetings Revolution
The parking lots at all the locations where you are holding meetings and events need to be evaluated to ensure there are ample parking spaces for guests with disability placards. Be aware that wheelchair-accessible vans often have ramps or platform lifts that deploy from the side. Van-accessible spaces need to be clearly marked. If you realize there are not enough accessible parking places, make plans to have temporary signs made. Use them to direct your guests to additional parking spaces close to the building entrance that are reserved for them.
Tips to help in your dining room set-up planning:
- Set the dining room with adequate space for people in wheelchairs to navigate through. When all the guests are seated, provide room to travel between the tables. Guests in wheelchairs should not be told that there is a designated table in the back of the room where they should sit. Inclusion is important. Give them a choice of tables and seats.
- Guests in wheelchairs may have difficulty seeing empty chairs at the tables and will need a person to help them identify a place to eat. That person can lead the guest to the identified spot at the table. Look for a place that does not have a table leg so there is room for the person’s legs and wheelchair.
- Ask the person in the wheelchair if they want the chair removed so they can stay seated in their wheelchair at the dining table. Remove the chair if requested.
- Once the person is positioned at the table, ask if they have enough room. Ask if they need any help during the meal. Make adjustments at the table to provide the space that is needed.
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D., is an internationally known speaker, trainer, author, consultant and president of Rossetti Enterprises Inc. She speaks to and consults with meeting professionals to help them create welcoming inclusive environments, and has earned recognition for her home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, that is the top-rated universal design home in North America.