I just got off the phone with an event organizer who responded really well to my simple request for an accommodation at their upcoming event. I just needed a chair – a simple request, but it is an event without designated seating or even “a lot” of seating. So having a polite, accommodating conversation was very nice.
When I bring this topic up to my friends who organize events, I am often met with complaints that they don’t know where to access the information about accommodations. This rings hollow in the era of Google. There is no one-size fits all checklist because people’s needs are unique and often not easy to predict. But you can put some good faith effort into the planning and the effort is something that people do notice.
Please note that this list is solely my opinion. I can’t speak for all people with disabilities or even all people with the same disabilities as me.
First, just take some time to think about accessibility. Is it on your planning checklist? Does it come up in committee meetings by the committee or does it come up with someone who needs an accommodation asks? Is it a value you prioritize and/or it is connected to the mission of your organization? Do you include differently abled people in your organization as employees, volunteers or volunteers?
Second, make a list of items unique to your event that should require some consideration of accessibility. Actually, this is everything from invitations to entrance ramps, from menus to childcare. What are the barriers in the planning that might prohibit someone from attending or participating? Can they be addressed? Pittsburgh is infamous for the “just one step” entrances in the older neighborhoods, but it is equally true that there are many, many spaces that are fully accessible. Give this some thought. What about access to water?
Third, have a point person to address specific requests. Make sure everyone knows who this person is and how to reach them. It is frustrating to call the main line to ask for accessible seating and encounter responses like “there is no designated seating” from someone who simply doesn’t understand the difference between assigned seating and accommodations.
Fourth, be creative and respectful. One local venue where I request a seat for concerts puts out a sign that says “At the artist’s request, this seat is reserved for Sue Kerr +1” just like they do for the artist’s family & friends. It is a nice little touch. If the venue only has accessible entrances in back, consider making that the MAIN entrance for your event – bring everyone in down the alley and through the kitchen so no one has to go up “just one step.” Use it as a teachable moment to put those who are often sent to the back door at the head of the line. Buy or borrow a temporary ramp.
Fifth, include this information on ALL of your event publicity – a statement like “Please contact 412-111-1111 with requests for accommodations” sends a clear message that we are ALL welcome to your event and that you are willing to work with us to meet our unique needs. I know a local business with a small stoop into the store that advertises thusly and bends over backwards to support customers who need an accommodation. It matters that they acknowledge the need and invest resources to help.
I’m deliberately not listing resources because it is important that your organizers do the heavy lifting here. There are multiple nonprofits that work with people with disabilities both in Pittsburgh and statewide. There are also tons of online tools you can utilize. And, frankly, there is a need for you and your supporters to put pressure on public officials to find accessibility solutions.
I’m looking forward to your next event.