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How changing the dial on venue accessibility can generate repeat custom

Samantha Brown, head of Conference Aston, explains how the industry can meet the needs of all delegates by taking a new approach to venue accessibility – and what buyers should look out for when choosing venues.

Venue accessibility has never been a more critical issue for the MICE sector. Nearly one in five people in the UK live with a disability and while standards have been raised, more work is needed to meet the needs of all delegates.

Samantha Brown, head of Conference Aston

Samantha Brown, head of Conference Aston

To achieve this, venues need to embrace a new approach to accessibility, implementing more than industry standard lifts and wheelchair ramps. Venues should instead begin developing a flexible and tailored accessibility strategy, centred on individually assessing and preparing for each disabled delegate.

One example of where a tailored accessibility strategy can be crucial is when hosting delegates with varying degrees of sight loss.

For partially sighted delegates, venues can utilise high-visibility tape. Marking the corners of furniture, glass doors and gradient changes can help delegates identify hazardous areas. A similar approach can be taken towards signage with tape used to highlight key messages.

Severely visually impaired delegates may need the assistance of guide dogs. To prepare for this, venues can position feeding stations around the site, while ensuring open spaces are available for guide dogs to use for breaks. These small steps can be critical in maintaining the wellbeing of support dogs and in turn their accompanying delegates.

Technology is a useful tool available to venues. For those with on-site hotels, the safety of guests with hearing impairments can be addressed through installing vibrating pillow pads which alert sleeping guests to fire alarms. Wireless doorbells can also be installed which display light rather than sound when pressed. Vast investment is not crucial and instead maximising the right technology can be an effective way to raise safety and accessibility standards.

Improvements should not be limited to conferencing and residential spaces however and the accessibility of all areas has to be considered. This includes making enhancements to a venue’s catering space and offering. Key first steps include developing accessible menus for visually impaired delegates, either through high-contrasting paper or braille.

Proper training

It is important to be aware of lesser-known disabilities such as those relating to taste and smell. By carrying out individual assessments and identifying this ahead of time, a venue can work with its catering team to develop a food and beverage offering focused on texture, temperature or spice – ensuring options remain appealing and delegate needs are met.

When developing a tailored approach to accessibility, the value of proper training must not be underestimated. External training providers can provide guidance on complex disabilities such as dementia or autism – ensuring that all staff, from sales through to front of house, are well equipped to support disabled delegates.

While progress is being made, accessibility remains an opportunity for venues to ensure disabled delegates receive the same high-quality conference and events experience. If successful, venues can improve their appeal to disabled delegates and take the right steps to generating repeat custom.

Only with a tailored and flexible approach to accessibility can the conference and events industry become truly inclusive, maximising its long-term prospects.