The organisers of such events do a great job of ensuring that they are always wheelchair accessible. But disabled access is about a lot more than wheelchairs. Recently I have found myself in the somewhat paradoxical position of discussing the importance of disability awareness-raising during a number of events which were not fully accessible to me. Powerpoints are almost always used, but I rarely encounter a speaker who takes the time to describe the images on the screen. Handouts are often circulated but unless they have been sent round in advance, I am unable to access the information they contain.
Practising inclusive access is not as onerous as it sounds. In fact many of the suggestions I list below are incredibly easy to incorporate:
- Offer large-print handouts a well as (or instead of) standard size ones.
- Circulate ALL materials (including powerpoints) in advance, electronically if possible. If you must table last-minute documents, offer to e-mail them to attendees on the spot and always circulate them after the meeting.
- Present at a comfortable pace
- If you incorporate Powerpoint slides into your presentation / meeting:
- use a high contrast colour scheme (i.e. white background, black font or the reverse)
- use a templated slide format
- use a sans-serif font, such as Arial, and maintain a large font size
- provide minimal text on each slide (only a few points)
- incorporate audio description of all images, graphs, charts on your slides
- Introduce yourself by name every time you speak, especially when several people are involved in a discussion.
- Encourage others to do the same: during questions, ask audience members to introduce themselves as well; consider asking everyone in the room to say who they are at the beginning of a meeting.
- Use neutral (or positive) language rather than negative language: for example, say ‘wheelchair user’ or ‘wheelchair rider’ rather than ‘wheelchair-bound’; say ‘non-disabled’ rather than ‘normal’ or ‘able-bodied’; avoid formulations like ‘suffers from’.
These simple measures will make many events more accessible to a whole range of attendees. Practising inclusive access is easy once we know how: convincing (and then reminding) people to keep on doing it is the tricky part.