How to host accessible events and meetings
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) promotes the principles of independence, dignity, integration, and equality of opportunity. All Toronto Metropolitan University events should be planned with accessibility in mind, and planners should take into consideration the fact that people with various types of disabilities might attend their event.
Events by invitation only
When an event is provided to a specific group and not open to a broader audience, invitations should indicate that persons requiring assistance should contact the individual responsible for the event if they require accommodations. Departments should indicate a date by which a request for accommodation must be made to ensure the service is available in time. Please see the section on event notices for more detailed information and sample wording.
Events open to the public
Although not every need can be anticipated and addressed in advance, it is best practice to provide sign language interpretation, text display, and closed captioning for events involving presentations or lectures open to broad audiences, e.g. University-wide celebration and official announcement events.
Costs of accommodation
Accessibility should be considered part of normal business budgeting, just as food, gifts, room rental or speaker fees are. Set aside some funds early in the planning stage in case there is a request for interpretation, to have materials prepared in Braille, etc.
When booking a location for your event, consider the following to make it as accessible as possible:
- Make sure that wheelchair access is via the main entrance. If this is not possible, post clear, legible signs at the main entrance showing alternative, safe and accessible entrances.
- Use a room where accessible washrooms are within a reasonable distance.
- Determine the nearest accessible parking and put this information on the event notice.
- Choose a room with wide aisles and plenty of space around tables to allow for easy movement for wheelchair and scooter users (you may have to rearrange furniture).
- Try to intersperse accessible areas throughout the room – front, middle and back – and not just off to one corner.
- Try to choose a location where it is possible to take dog guides outside on break when needed.
- Use a room with good lighting (bright, without glare and allows for adjustment) and good acoustics.
- If a stage or projector screen are used, they should be easily visible.
- Follow up with people who request accommodations in advance to discuss and agree on appropriate accommodation.
- If providing food, give participants the opportunity to request dietary preferences and order enough to include interpreters or support persons.
- Train volunteers on how to respectfully assist people with disabilities and to respond to any accessibility issues that may arise.
- Provide interpreters or note takers with materials such as, agendas, presentation outlines, videos, and other supporting materials in advance of the event so they can adequately prepare.
- Produce materials in large print (16‐point type or larger) and have them available electronically in case of a request for such a format.
- Consider making materials available in advance upon request to persons with disabilities. Encourage and support presenters to offer copies of their material in different formats before their presentation starts.
- Consider alternate formats for materials, such as video and voice. Try to have closed captioning and descriptive text for video. Ask the presenters to describe images or slides verbally.
Be sure to book any interpretation services such as sign language or captioning well in advance (two to three weeks minimum) as they are in extremely high demand.
Events that are more than two hours in length typically require two interpreters, and interpreters must be given a break every hour. Interpreting is physically and mentally draining. Resting periodically allows the interpreter to perform better and is vital to prevent cumulative motion injuries.
For events that are full days, two to three interpreters may be needed. Interpreters working in a team will allow communication to flow smoothly and thereby minimize distractions to the 4 presentation. One interpreter will actively interpret for 20-30 minutes while the other provides back-up to the active interpreter. Discuss your particular needs and the requirements with the interpretation service.
Booking an interpretation service
We’re currently looking into a standard process for arranging interpreter services and will make this information available as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can contact Ontario Interpreting Services directly at email@example.com, by phone at (416) 928 - 2520. They ask that you have the following information available when you place your request:
- Date including the day
- Start and end time
- Location – including floor number, department name, office name, nearest intersection, specific parking or entrance protocols
- Names of all the hearing and deaf consumers involved in the meeting
- A brief explanation on the purpose of the meeting (i.e. check-up, follow-up, consultation, job evaluation, review file, training session, and or other reasons)
- Phone number of the location
- Contact person’s name and phone number
- Availability of print materials (i.e. agenda, past meeting minutes) for the interpreter(s)
- Billing address and contact name to send the invoice.
- Give ample notice for your upcoming event – this allows people to arrange for transportation, assistants or other supports they may require.
- Provide space on your registration form or on the event notice for people to identify their accommodations or special needs.
- Alternatively, include contact information (e.g. phone number and e‐mail address) so that attendees can contact you with their special, confidential requests.
- Follow up with people who request accommodations in a timely fashion to inform them whether or not these will be available.
- Indicate whether there are any fees for admission or materials; in particular, if fees will also be charged to any accompanying support persons.
- On the posters or information sheets, consider including Universal Access Symbols (external link) and the duration of the event.
- Promote a scent‐free practice for all events.
- If you are serving food, give participants a chance to request dietary preferences.
If there is a registration form for the event, provide a space for people to identify necessary accommodations or other special needs such as sign language interpretation or food allergies. Include contact information in case attendees would like to contact you directly with confidential requests.
Indicate a date by which a request for accommodation must be made to ensure the service is available in time. As mentioned above, it may require up to three weeks advance notice to secure a sign language interpreter.
Promotional material for events and invitations should include the following (or a similar) statement:
“The [department or office name] is committed to accessibility for persons with disabilities. Please contact us by [date 2-3 weeks in advance of event] if you have any particular accommodation requirements. Please [contact email and phone number].”
Also to be included on invitations, notices, or advertisements about the event is the fees charged, if any. It must indicate if the fees will also apply to any support person accompanying a person with a disability; however it is best practice to not charge admission for support persons. Include the duration of the event so persons with disabilities can arrange for transportation home if necessary.
Consider including on the event notice locations of accessible parking near the event. Also consider using Universal Access Symbols (external link) to communicate any accommodations that you have already arranged.
- Cover electrical cables or cords that cross over aisles or pathways so wheelchair users as well as people who use canes and walkers can traverse safely across them. This is a standard health and safety practice, and should be followed for all events, large or small.
- Post clear, legible signs showing accessible entrances, emergency exits, phones and washrooms. Indicate where dog guides can be taken on break. Announce the locations at beginning of the event as part of normal housekeeping.
- Make sure persons with a disability can reach all areas used at your event independently or with assistance from your volunteers, e.g., the registration desk, auditorium, breakaway rooms, stage, etc.
- Make sure organizers, presenters and volunteers are aware of emergency evacuation procedures.
- Be sure the interpreters and/or captioners are introduced and explain what they will be doing during the event, but it is not necessary to draw attention to the persons they are interpreting for.
- Consider having volunteer sighted guides at the event to assist persons with vision disabilities.
- Wherever possible, try to eliminate or reduce background noise during proceedings.
- Offer reserved seating for persons requesting accommodations. Reserve also a seat for their support person if applicable. If there are sign language interpreters, seat them across from the person with the disability.
- Be sure evaluation forms include a section about accessibility of the event. This can provide valuable information for use in future event plans.
- For presenters, lectern heights and audio visual controls need to be adjustable to meet the needs of different speakers.
- Confirm whether the presenters require any other type of accommodation.
- Inform presenters that individuals may have assistive devices that they may request the presenter to use, e.g. portable audio amplification devices.
- During the session, presenters should verbally describe contents of videos, or any written materials, including overheads or chalkboard notes for audience members with vision disabilities.
- Remind presenters to end meetings or presentations on schedule, as people making transit arrangements often have very little flexibility.