No one should be left out of any part of your event because they can’t physically access the space. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case.
(I know that there is more to accessibility than mobility. There are necessary accommodations for other handicaps, including deafness and blindness, the autism spectrum, and more. But for this post, I will be writing about my experiences with mobility disability.)
This week I spent five days traveling from Rochester, New York to San Antonio, Texas via Charlotte, North Carolina. To say that I had some mobility struggles is an understatement. Let's just say that San Antonio itself isn't all that handicapped accessible. It was thanks to my incredible coworkers that made the week so accommodating for me.
I've learned a lot over the last few years about what needs to be in place for mobility accessibility. At events, venues, hotels, transportation, restaurants… well, you get the idea — it matters everywhere people go.
This past week I experienced two major hurdles.
- The only doors that had automatic openers in my entire week were at the airports.
- The hotel didn't offer shower chairs or a way for me to safely take a shower.
Let me interweave some of my experiences with my suggestions below.
Minimum Requirements for Accessibility
Automatic doors. While I am an independent person, I'm not so independent that I won't ask others to open a door for me. However, it isn't always possible. Sometimes you're alone, and there's a door in front of you keeping you from entering to attend meetings, events, meals, or even a restroom. If you're creating an event for people, or you're a venue (like a restaurant) open to the public, please make sure that everyone has access by installing automatic door openers that work either by pushing a button or with a sensor.
I had to get creative this week when I wasn't with colleagues: using my cane to wedge doors open so I could pass through, pushing through doors with the front of my scooter, and relying on strangers to hold doors open for me. I made it work, but someone with less mobility than me might not have been able to.
Curb Cuts, Ramps and Elevators
If someone with mobility issues (using a wheelchair, scooter, cane, or walker, for example) needs access to your location, then steps (really, even a single step) are an issue. Make sure that there are curb cuts or ramps in place for this. And if you are in a building without an elevator, then please know that anyone who can't use stairs will not be able to go above the entry level.
I was fortunate this week that every place I had to traverse had elevators, curb cuts, or ramps, but I have been in situations before where I've had to go to the back entrance of a location just to join my colleagues. Believe me that entering through the alleyway doesn't feel welcoming.
I used Lyft for this trip, and the app doesn't have a way to identify that you have a mobility device. My scooter breaks down into several pieces that actually fit in the trunk of my car (a sedan). But I made sure to order an XL vehicle each time. One driver was rude to me. He actually said “You expect me to put that into my vehicle?” After I explained that it breaks down, and took it apart (and the hotel door man helped him load it into his ample SUV), he got better. But he also wouldn't let me sit in the front seat. Because my legs don't work well, getting into the back seat of any vehicle is difficult, and I did fall on my knee getting in. By the time I arrived to dinner, I was late, in pain, and in tears.
Access to Outlets
Anyone with an electric scooter or wheelchair will need to make sure it's charged up. Running out of power literally stops you where you are. And there's nothing you can do to remedy it short of asking people to push you to the nearest outlet.
It should go without saying, but it needs to be said anyway: hotels you recommend for your event attendees should be fully accessible. They should have all of the above (curb cuts, ramps, elevators, automatic doors) — and they should also have accessible rooms. That means it should be easy to get into and out of those room. There should be plenty of room for a wheelchair to move within the rooms and roll-in showers with shower seats. At the very least they should have shower seats that can be delivered to your room.
(Many thanks to my colleagues this week for NOT commenting on a week's worth of unwashed hair, as I don't have the ability to climb into a tub, get out of a tub, or stand in a shower, and the hotel had no accommodations for me in my room.)
Accessible and Nearby Meals, Restrooms, and Other Amenities Within Buildings
One of the hardest things for me at past events when I was using only a cane, was having to walk long distances within a venue to attend lunch or sessions. Please remember that not everyone with mobility issues is using a motorized device. Those with canes and walkers may find distance to be a deterrent to attending parts of the event.
Beyond Adequate Accessibility
In addition to the things that are necessary, the following would be so good to have:
- A list of local restaurants and stores that are accessible and the distance to them.
- A list of local stores that are accessible and the distance to them(like pharmacies and souvenir shops).
- A number to call for assistance in case of any issues.
- An accessibility coordinator designated for each day of your event that can be called or texted in an emergency.
The most important thing to remember is that all of your attendees should have access to the same experiences. No one should be left out of any part of your event because they can't physically access the space.