Vicki Lepore, CEM, CASE, is an Account Executive with SmartSource Computer & Audio Visual Rentals She is an active member of the exhibition and meeting industry with extensive knowledge of the meeting industry’s technology and logistical needs, and in-depth strategic planning, organization design and project management experience. She holds a Certification in Exhibition Management (CEM) through the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). www.smartsourcerentals.com
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data, more than 53 million adults in the U.S. have a disability; that’s one in five adults. Disabilities range from hearing and vision problems to physical functioning difficulties and complex activity limitations. There is legislation to prevent discrimination against the disabled, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008. It applies to all settings including conferences, trade shows and other meetings, which must be accessible to those with disabilities.
Still, if you polled individuals with disabilities who have recently attended a large event, their feedback likely would point to more than one obstacle they had to overcome. Barriers, poorly lit areas, doorways unable to accommodate wheelchairs or other mobility devices, and no provisions for service animals, etc. — the list goes on. It doesn’t have to be that way. Meeting planners can mitigate these challenges by understanding common obstacles facing attendees with disabilities and implementing advanced planning regarding venue selection and the application of technologies to create a more accessible event.
A prevalent problem the disabled face when entering a venue is barriers prohibiting easy access for them, their wheelchairs, scooters and/or service animals. Scrutinizing a potential location from the perspective of a disabled individual is essential. Try maneuvering through a venue on a wheelchair to experience the event as a disabled individual might. While many event venues have bathroom stalls for those with physical limitations, smaller venues often do not, nor do they accommodate service animals. Seek out other locations and those with:
Accessible events can further be achieved through event technologies, which enhance the experience for individuals with disabilities, while benefiting meeting planners, exhibitors, sponsors and non-disabled event-goers.
Meeting planners can demonstrate their consideration for individuals with disabilities through the use of advanced event technologies that are particularly beneficial to those with disabilities:
Web-based event registration software. Enables registration online or onsite using self-serve kiosks, with or without assistance, helping to alleviate long lines. Onsite registration desks should be height-accessible with ample clearance for wheelchairs or scooters. This software facilitates easy registration, payment processing, badge creation and data capture through barcodes with embedded attendee profile data easily scanned for attendee tracking. It also features reporting tools.
Event check-in and badge-printing software. Makes processes faster and easier, accommodating those who tire easily or whose disability involves limited functioning. It also offers: connecting attendee lists with online registration platforms, onsite badge printing and real-time reporting for event planners.
Mobile event app software. Helps individuals with disabilities easily navigate an event by providing easily accessed program information/schedules, personalized event agendas and venue maps that limit unnecessary movement. The apps also provide exhibitor information such as booth locations and product information as well as information on the host city (transportation systems, restaurants, cultural attractions, etc.). These apps integrate with social media, have networking capabilities and convey a concierge-type experience, especially helpful for those with disabilities.
Interactive kiosks. Assists individuals with disabilities in navigating a venue and accessing helpful information (agenda, exhibitors, floor plan, etc.). They also prevent a disabled individual from expending unnecessary effort going from one activity to another. Place kiosks in highly visible, high-traffic areas, near entrances and restrooms, in social media lounges, cyber cafés and dining areas. For event planners, exhibitors and sponsors, kiosks offer outstanding branding opportunities.
High-resolution, big-screen displays in LCD and LED format. Offers easier viewing of presentations and exhibitors’ information, especially helpful for those with vision limitations. They deliver a high engagement factor while supporting administrative and marketing processes such as registration and product demonstrations.
Giant iTab. Transforms a typical touchscreen display into a giant smartphone format, accommodating individuals with developmental or vision disabilities and encouraging engagement. The technology projects apps in their native environment just as they appear on mobile devices, but on a huge display. Content options include: product selector guide, smartpad app, Salesforce app, product configurator, websites, video showreels, PowerPoint slides, brochures/PDFs, picture galleries, gaming, Twitter and Facebook.
Charging stations. For many individuals with disabilities, mobile devices serve as a lifeline and must always be charged. Having charging stations available throughout the venue is a convenience for all attendees, but for the disabled, it offers peace of mind and alleviates unnecessary worry. Like kiosks, they also provide a platform for delivering information, branding and marketing.
An interview conducted by Alice Wong with Sarah Blahovec, a disability voting rights activist and blogger with Crohn’s disease, and Laura Halvorson, a disability rights advocate with muscular dystrophy, and reported on by the Disability Visibility Project (disabilityvisibility project.com), sheds light on how the disabled feel about their event experiences.
In speaking about an experience at a get-out-the-vote event in September 2016, Sarah noted how she was “astounded by the line” and expected “there would be a separate ADA line” and “ADA section well separated from the general audience.” Because Laura uses a non-invasive ventilating machine for breathing and a power wheelchair for mobility, she was concerned that others would bump into the ventilator and disrupt its performance. When they arrived, their concern grew as they realized the space was not conducive for Laura’s situation. The crowd crossed the ADA section barrier, creating an upsetting and potentially dangerous situation as the force of the crowd began moving Laura’s wheelchair and ventilator. Among Sarah’s recommendations to event planners were: have stronger, sturdier barriers for ADA sections, have crowd control in place, and recognize that disabled people want to participate and should not have to “weigh whether they, their medical equipment or their mobility devices will be at risk.”
The right venue selection and event technologies can make participation in events a positive experience for all attendees, especially those with disabilities. C&IT