Accessing Accessibility For Your Next Event

10 June 2020

What does accessibility mean for the live events industry?  

Since our renovation and exciting relaunch two years ago, we at the Roundhouse, have strived to make sure that our venue and values reflect and match the key elements of the new space: modernity and innovation. 

Our Round the Room events are designed around the venue team and our diverse range of Roundhouse clients and attendees. Together, we can connect the industry and promote positive change for events.  

As a truly multi-purpose venue in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, we’ve recognised and continued to work on making our space as accessible as possible for the incredibly diverse range of events we continue to hold. Greater accessibility means increased reach, an inclusive environment, and enhanced services to make sure all participants can have the same great experience at any event. 

OUR TOP TIPS

Don’t assume – to know what the best accessibility practice, reach out and ask people with accessibility needs on what

Everyone is different – what may work for one person with accessibility needs, may not work for others.

Tech it up – Technology can be a great friend for the events industry, providing multiple means of expression so all participants can learn and get the most out of your event.

See the invisible – Physical accessibility needs are more commonly addressed in event planning. Remember to consider and design for people with less visible disabilities.

Integrate, don’t differentiate – Consider accessibility as an essential part of your event design. Differentiating accessibility as a separate add-on to your event diminishes the experience of a significant group of the live event community.

We Asked The Experts 

Todd Winther, Grants Administrator for YoungCare Australia 

When you’re looking at events to attend, what are some key elements that drive your decision to attend? What makes you feel safer at an event?  

There are many things I consider. Chief among them is how I can navigate the actual venue. Can I access the parts I need to? Can I do this safely, and on my own? Am I able to blend in with the majority without sticking out from the crowd? Will I be able to enjoy the event as much as my able bodied counterparts? It's important that I don't miss out on opportunities that the rest of the attendees are able to experience. 

Do you have an example of this? What made that event a positive experience for you, and how can event organisers implement this into their events? 

I find sporting events and most festivals are good at providing an inclusive experience, specifically Bluesfest, Woodford and yes Splendour, but also venues like The Gabba, Suncorp Stadium, the State Theatre there in Sydney, and QPAC both in terms of access and enjoyment. They provide a range of options according to pricing structure and the interaction. No two people with disabilities are the same, so it is important that they are given as many options as the able bodied consumer. Events and venues that restrict the 'access options' to one or two choices really frustrate me. Often the people who co-ordinate these events think of accessibility as an after thought, and don't actually consider that people with disabilities, their friends, families and support workers actually comprise a large portion of their customer base. Accessibility is not only a advantage for these stakeholders, its actually good for your business too. Can you speak about what the best language or best practice for event staff to follow when helping someone with a disability at an event?  

As mentioned above every person with a disability is different, so no two sets of needs are the same. The individual you're connecting with is THE expert on their condition. Talk directly to them, and assume they can advocate for themselves, unless you are specifically informed otherwise. This may sound obvious but the reason they are connecting with you is that they like the event you're putting on. They are a music lover, a sports fanatic, a cultural critic, a hippie, a raver, a poet, a teenie bopper, an intellectual, a groupie, and/or a hipster just like you. They've come to find you. Make sure they keep coming back for more.  

Dr. Terry Cumming, Professor of Special Education & Academic Lead for UNSW Disability Innovation Institute 

In what ways can we use technology in a live learning setting to enhance accessibility? (e.g. with a lecture style conference or smaller scale workshop) 

Provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement, so that learners can approach and digest information in more than one way. For conferences and or other live events, some key technology to consider are: 

  • Blue tooth microphones for presenters and audience 
  • Hearing loops 

  • Live captioning for the speakers and any videos or multimedia in the presentation 

  • Audio descriptions of videos/charts/other graphics 

  • Audience participation platforms like Poll Everywhere and Zeetings  

What are some challenges of making this technology accessible? 

The main challenge of using some of this technology to improve accessibility is cost. For example, closed captioning can be quite expensive. The second challenge is knowledge on the part of the organiser, and this includes having an awareness of what technologies are available and what they do, as well as how to use them. The third challenge is making sure the participants understand how to use the technology. It’s also important to remember the digital divide; not everyone has access to technology/internet, so consider how you can get content and key information to your target audience without digital technology. 

What are some key considerations for people with invisible disabilities at events?  

  • Ask ahead of time if invitees have any special requirements 
  • Catering should take into consideration food allergies 
  • Lighting should be even- avoid strobe lights 
  • Provide chairs at standing events for people who may experience fatigue 
  • Provide access to a separate quiet area to allow participants to take a break if needed 
  • Provide drinking water 

Michelle Davie, Access Liaison Manager for Splendour in the Grass 

What aspects do you need to keep in mind when planning accessibility for an event?  

For outdoor events, there will generally be some limitations as a result of balancing the needs of participants with sustainability concerns such as reducing the footprint on the surrounding environment. Make sure that the design and implementation of accessibility is an integral part of your events team. Whether it’s assigning a dedicated team member to the role, or keeping your venue or event manager aware of accessibility needs, make sure you or your team remember people with disabilities at your events. 

From being available for people with disabilities to ask questions about on-site accessibility, to planning the right infrastructure for accessibility, remember to reach out to people with accessibility needs without assuming the best practice. Educate attendees in advance on what to expect at your event so they can make an informed decision on how they can participate in your event. We ask people for dietary requirements for catered events so why not ask the question – do you have accessibility requirements?  

What are the key costs involved when making events more accessible and inclusive?  

For physical events like Splendour in the Grass, the major costs involve the infrastructure. This may include building and offering accessible toilets, showers, and viewing platforms for individuals with accessibility needs where you have raised stages or expect large crowds. Also consider a potential Companion Card policy for attendees who may have accessibility needs. This can allow them to attend and bring along a dedicated carer or companion to make sure they can enjoy the same experience that all your able-bodied attendees enjoy.  

How can you train your crew on accessibility and implement it across your on-ground staff?  

Make sure accessibility is planned as part of the overall layout for your event. Send out your accessibility plans to all your staff, such as any volunteers, front of house, or security. Spend time educating on-ground staff on the key information about accessibility at your event. Continue checking on your accessibility plans and infrastructure throughout your event, to make sure that they are operating as designed. Make sure that your staff also have a clear overview of who is attending, and where relevant, the details of attendees who have raised accessibility requirements in advance. It is also important that your staff can contact the accessibility manager easily and efficiently for any unexpected circumstances. 

To train staff on accessibility, Dylan’s Alcott’s company Get Skilled Access is a useful resource for gaining a deeper understanding of, and helping build confidence in, working and servicing people with a disability or accessibility need. The training program is particularly impactful as it is written by someone with a disability.

A key component of our venue's accessibility is public transport, and we're excited to have the Light Rail now operating and stopping at our doorstep. Read more about the route here. 

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