Event accessibility: What can event planners do to help more?

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Lack of compliance with the UK Equality Act 2010 Lack of compliance with the UK Equality Act 2010

 Alan Broadbent, the co-founder of Global Network for Entrepreneurs With Disabilities, which provides free support to new start-ups by disabled people, explains how the meetings and event industry can be more inclusive and accessible.

Q: What are the main reasons for disabled people finding it difficult to travel to conferences? 

A: Those operating in the MICE industry overall do not plan for inclusiveness - and disabled business people are more than aware of this. 

Scenario: An event/conference publicises that on offer to ‘hosted buyers’ are free flights, airport transfers, hotels, local tours. 

Alternative Scenario: An event/conference publicises that on offer to ‘hosted buyers’ are free flights including airport assistance for those with special needs and mobility needs (wheelchairs, scooters, etc.), adapted vehicle airport transfers, hotels with adapted rooms (roll-in showers as standard), and accessible tours for all. 

Q: What are the stumbling points? 

A: The first ‘blockage’ encountered by disabled business people is the lack of compliance with the UK Equality Act 2010The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has published a Code of Practice which came into force on 6 April 2011.  

Alan Broadbent

Q: What can event planners do to help more? 

A: It is not a case of what event planners can do to help more but how they can comply with their legal obligations to avoid litigation for non-compliance. The key to an event that is inclusive and accessible is to ensure that being inclusive is inherent in all stages of planning from concept to completion. This requires that all involved in an organisation are committed to inclusiveness and this starts with an organization creating an Access Statement. 

Planning is not restricted to physical access as it also relates to access to materials such as pre-event publicity, websites, telephone, ticketing, and on-site services such as catering, AVA facilities, etc. It also includes information you supply to all involved in a project, this may include speakers, chairpersons, the staff at a venue (are they trained in awareness of disability needs?), attendees, exhibitors, etc. 

Another key element of the planning process is to recognise that disabilities are not always visible and that many attendees/delegates arriving at an event may have hidden or temporary disabilities.  

Example: Your keynote speaker arrives in a wheelchair after breaking a leg in a skiing accident, this is a visible temporary disability, with effective pre-planning access to a stage or speaker’s podium should not pose a difficulty; failing to provide suitable access would be embarrassing both for the speaker and the event organiser. 

 A resistance to being all-inclusive, usually with cost being quoted as the main factor

Q: What are the legal obligations for event planners to make events and conferences more accessible?

A: The question for the UK provider is “How does the UK Equality Act 2010 affect event organisers? The act states that Direct discrimination occurs where, because of disability, a person receives worse treatment than someone who does not have a disability. The act is intended to stop people being denied a service, or receiving a worse service, because of prejudice.” Providers should take reasonable steps to find whether someone is disabled pre-event. If an event/conference originates in the UK or is to be held in a country other than the UK but the managing events/conference company is UK-based, then the UK Equality Act 2010 applies to their activities. 

Q: Can you tell me about your experiences of promoting disabled travel in the meetings market 

A: There is an overall resistance to being all-inclusive, usually with the cost being quoted as the main factor as to why inclusiveness has not been on the planning agenda. Resistance to change and the old chestnut, we are never asked for these services.” 

Q: Does it cost more to have an event be more accessible? 

A: Cost is not a factor per se as an event has to be accessible. There are no ifs, maybes or buts. There is however a Reasonable Adjustment clause in the legislation that eases the inclusion aspect of planning an event/exhibitionThe Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on service providers to make “reasonable adjustments” to enable disabled persons to access their services. 

Q: What is a reasonable adjustment? 

A: The code suggests that “factors which might be taken into account include: the service provider’s financial and other resources; the number of resources already spent on making adjustments; and the extent of any disruption which taking the steps would cause the service provider.” 

Q: Do you have any good examples where event planners have really taken this on board?

A: I was engaged by Pacific World as a consultant to assist in making the then EIBTM, now IBTM event accessible for all. Pacific World created an Access Statement, included all event planners in the adoption of access for all process. IBTM offers a comprehensive service to those persons attending their event in Barcelona. The results have been impressive. Based on my calculations approximately two per cent of hosted buyers have acknowledged they have a disability and have taken advantage of the services available.  

Holly Patrick
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Holly Patrick
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A desire to travel led Holly Patrick to the business meetings and events world and she’s never looked back. Holly takes a particular interest in event sustainability and creating a diverse and inclusive industry. When she’s not working, she can be found rolling skating along Brighton seafront listening to an eclectic playlist, featuring the likes of Patti Smith, Sean Paul, and Arooj Aftab.

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