Planning Best Practices for Accessible, Barrier-Free Meetings
Ideally conferences, meetings, seminars and trade shows should be accessible to each and every attendee regardless of whether they have a disability. Unfortunately, that is not always the case -- with people having to either sit it out or go through a variety of difficulties to join in.
Small but effective steps can be taken in the planning stages to be inclusive of all, like creating virtual elements to meetings, or swapping out high bistro tables in favor of lower ones so they are wheel chair friendly.
Venue, hotel and destination selection can also obviously play a big role in accessibility. Here are some barrier-free, best practices coming out of Germany to keep in mind no matter where you want to bring everyone together.
• Sight City, held at the Sheraton Hotel in Frankfurt for multiple years is Europe’s biggest exhibition for products and tools that assist those with blindness or low vision. Some steps organizers have taken to help visitors of all abilities at the event include: Barrier free tactile paving and guiding lines, braille signage, a free pick up service to escort visitors from the railway station platform to the show, staff training programs, and even special room cleaning procedures to tackle guide dog hair!
• The soon to be opened Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall in Hamburg has been designed with barrier-free participation in performances, meetings and events in mind. For the vision impaired, a tactile paving system guides people into the building and up to each floor and there is a recorded notice indicating what floor you are on at the end of every banister. For those with hearing impairments, the Grand Hall is equipped with induction loop technology so people can listen to music and spoken content wirelessly through their own hearing aids. Headphones are also available to rent for those with hearing challenges.
• "Tourism for All" is a project that was launched in 2012 by Osnabrück Marketing + Tourism which includes a guide to the city developed by an employee who is a wheelchair user. In addition, an "Accessible Tourism" working group was established in the city including the local convention center OsnabrückHalle. During the Halle’s recent refurbishment barrier-free design was key including creating ramps on the ground floor for to foyer elevators, a guidance system throughout and more.
• Scandic Hotels Germany has accessibility standards that specify 135 technical and architectural measures to aid in barrier-free stays. Just a few examples include extra-wide corridors and doors, seat-height “security peek” holes in room doors, announcement systems in elevators and website optimization for screen readers. Case in point, the Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz has 10% of their rooms as barrier-free, and their Hamburg location has 33 barrier-free rooms … enough to house an entire wheelchair basketball team which could come into play as cities vie for the 2024 Paralympics. Further, Scandic has a Disability Officer who drives all policies and plans and heads up staff training across properties.
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