Why everyone benefits from accessible events

Changing perspectives and understanding needs

Authors: Kerstin Hoffmann-Wagner, Gudrun Jostes

For some time now, accessibility has been an important topic for venues. Because of corresponding legislation and technical regulations, public buildings – no matter if new builds or renovations – need to be planned in such a way that people with disabilities have full access to every space in the building in question.

Demographic developments and the right to live and work in an inclusive society are topics of the future that the MICE industry will have to increasingly deal with. What do inclusiveness and accessibility mean? Planning and designing meetings while keeping accessibility in mind create the basis for inclusive meetings that enable everyone to fully participate in conferences, events, incentive trips or trade fairs.

What does that mean for organisers and planners in the MICE sector?

When it comes to accessibility, organisers and planners should consider the following three principles:

1. No special solutions

Accessibility is not a special solution. It is rather about enabling people with and without disabilities to have access to and participate in every event. Something that might be necessary for one participant can be added comfort for another, e.g., when providing a barrier-free entrance to a venue it is not only about creating a special entrance for people in wheelchairs but rather about rebuilding an entrance in such a way that visitors with limited mobility and other disabilities as well as employees who have to carry furniture or artist/technicians that have to install lighting systems or similar in the building can use it without any problems. Accessible event concepts are about the professional organisation of inclusive events that consider the needs of every participant, be they small or tall, partially sighted or blind, hearing-impaired or deaf, users of walking frames, wheelchairs, white canes and hearing aids or not.

2. Understanding needs

In order to achieve the goals described above, the varied needs of visitors and participants need to be identified and understood. Only then, corresponding steps can be taken and implemented. As a society, we are forever becoming older, more mixed and varied and more demanding, which, in turn, means that event organisers are faced with more complex challenges. How can all the different requirements be identified and how do you start planning without knowing the specific requirements of participants? Our two-phase model is an option to address these issues:

In phase one – the initial stage of project planning – the specific needs of participants are now known yet so that defined standards that hold for every event need to be applied. This includes, for instance, choosing a barrier-free venue, designing an event that enables participation of people with mobility and other impairments, communicating via an accessible website, designing print material that is rich in contrast, accessible catering with mixed seating and much more. Phase two is when the actual event communication starts, i.e. contacting potential participants. Using registration tools, you can then specifically ask about requirements and evaluate how to implement those.

3. Seamless planning

Solitary measures can be helpful. However, they are not productive. For each event, it is necessary to individually review the existence of a seamless “chain of accessibility”: The current situation at the venue and location, the existing technology and the type of event in question need to be looked at and be analysed with regard to their suitability for an accessible event. Only then is it possible to integrate complementary measures and previously defined standards right from the start as elements of event planning that are a given for everyone. This needs to be considered in every planning phase. Together with the existing building blocks for accessibility and the complementary measures, the necessary and seamlessly designed mobility and service chain providing for accessible meetings, events and exhibitions can then be created.

Three questions for...

Gudrun Jostes, Dipl.-Ing. (German academic engineering qualification), certified professional planner and freelance expert for accessible construction who is running her own consultancy firm, Planungsbüro Jostes & Kerstin Hoffmann-Wagner, event consultant, certified coach and owner of event agency Hoffmann Eventberatung. Since 2015, Gudrun and Kerstin have been working together in the field of accessible events and exhibitions.

How can event planners and venue operators benefit from accessibility?

Demographic changes are a reality and not just a trend anymore. If you face these facts and act accordingly, you can differentiate yourself and be successful with future-oriented concepts for events. Sustainable event planning includes aspects of accessibility and is an added plus that event planners as well as venue operators can benefit from.

From your point of view, what are the biggest advantages when used in event planning?

Creating accessible events means that you can increase the number of visitors or participants. People who have so far avoided events, simply because there was no access for them, now have the possibility to take part without any restrictions.

What are the typical pitfalls and how can they be avoided?

The most common pitfall is that there is still little know-how about the integration of measures into event planning that make inclusiveness possible. This results in reservations, specifically with regard to additional cost that is then actually created when measures are taken too late and merely as add-ons to already existing plans. The challenge for future event planning will be to work with integrated event concepts, i.e., including every aspect right from the start, be it fire protection and security regulations or the requirements for sustainability and accessibility.

Kerstin Hoffmann-Wagner

Kerstin Hoffmann-Wagner is a freelance event consultant and certified coach. She advises, coaches and trains companies on and in all areas of event and exhibition planning. Prior to launching her own business, she worked as a consultant and project manager in employed positions in the event management sector. Sustainability and inclusiveness as well as social media and crisis management for events are special areas of expertise.

Gudrun Jostes

Gudrun Jostes is a certified professional planner and freelance expert for accessible construction. Since 2000, she has been advising clients in the private and public sector on how to plan and construct barrier-free buildings. Gudrun is also very experienced in providing practice-oriented trainings and running workshops for, amongst others, guilds of craftsmen, universities, associations and companies.