Having a disability shouldn’t stop anybody from attending an event. Unfortunately, there are often many barriers making it harder for this group to take part.
In August 2019, organisers of Ed Sheeran’s concert at Roundhay Park in Leeds were slammed by disabled fans who claimed they were physically unable to access the designated entrances and reserved areas. This isn’t a problem limited to the music industry either. Emma Muldoon, who runs the blog Simply Emma, wrote a lengthy piece in January 2019 highlighting some of the accessibility issues in cinemas.
Though there are often plans in place to tackle these problems—for example, London’s Old Vic and six other UK theatres have been awarded funding to improve accessibility—some entertainers have decided enough is enough. Only recently did indie rock band Mystery Jets boycott venues lacking disabled access, with frontman Blaine Harrison declaring: “Live music is one of the most visceral experiences you can have; it should be for everybody.”
As an event organiser, your job is to make the occasion one to remember, but make sure that it’s for the right reasons. You have a duty to cater to every attendee, so follow these tips to host an event that’s as accessible as possible.
Choose an appropriate venue
Bear in mind that guests with impairments or health conditions may struggle to navigate the location you’ve had your eye on, so it’s up to you to find a worthy alternative. Luckily, that shouldn’t be too hard. From humongous stadiums like Manchester United’s Old Trafford to smaller buildings like Cecil Sharp House in London or The Georgian Theatre in Stockton-On-Tees, UK venues of all sizes have taken important steps to increase accessibility.
The first thing to consider is whether those in wheelchairs can easily make their way around the space, which means analysing every route. As well as ensuring there is step-free access between the entrance, stage, bar and toilets, also consider whether they’ll be able to seamlessly reach the venue from any public transport drop-offs or parking areas. If not, you may need to consider installing aids like ramps where necessary. And, of course, there must be an accessible seated viewing area with a clear view of the stage.
Beyond the physical state of the venue, you should see whether it’s possible to make any further adjustments. For example, ticket holders with hearing impairments will have a better experience if there are visible screens showing song titles, lyrics, speech and any other sounds in text form. Furthermore, for those who have sensory issues caused by learning disabilities such as autism, you could offer a quiet, alternative room away from the action that has been arranged to create a safe space for them.
Ensure staff are properly trained
You can’t assume that your staff are clued up when it comes to disability awareness and unfortunately there is still plenty of ignorance in this regard. For example, in September 2019, Wetherspoons staff accused student Amber Davies of “snorting, dealing and having sex” in a disabled toilet when she was actually just emptying her stoma bag. In an open letter posted on Instagram, Amber, who suffers from ulcerative colitis, reminded the public that: “Not every disability is visible”.
Rather than risk causing serious upset and humiliation to any of your guests, you must train your team prior to the big day. This is particularly significant in the events industry as rather than relying solely on the location’s in-house team, you may outsource some staff who aren’t aware of the venue’s policies. Being such a broad and sensitive topic, it’s not advisable for you to create a programme of your own. Instead, look to an expert organisation such as Disability Rights UK, whose disability confidence training was rated “good or excellent” by 100% of people on the course.
Share important information in advance
It’s only fair that your visitors know what to expect before they arrive at the venue. If you don’t provide them with answers they’re looking for, they may deem your event too risky to attend.
Attitude is Everything, a charity dedicated to improving deaf and disabled people’s access to live music, recommends that you present access information on a dedicated page on your website. This should be easily located in your primary navigation or in a pull-down menu—like how London’s KOKO venue has done here—including information pertaining to the following topics:
Access approaching and inside the venue
Which areas are and aren’t wheelchair accessible and how many steps are included in specific access routes. A map of the venue would be a big help.
Parking and public transport
Any blue badge parking spots, the distance from the venue and whether the closest public transport points are step-free.
Details of free ticket deals for PAs or companions, and how to apply for and collect them.
Any items required to guarantee entry.
The sightline, whether seating is available and policies on +1s.
If these are accessible (otherwise, where is the closest accessible toilet?). Also explain whether stewards have access and if RADAR locks are used.
Provisions for the deaf
Whether there will be hearing loops, subtitles or British Sign Language interpreters.
Venue’s policy and details of any toileting or drinking areas.
Will it be used and, if so, when and how will warnings be announced.
Alternative formats available
Whether large print, braille or audio can be issued.
As Attitude Is Everything points out: “Knowing whether there is a small step, 3 steps or a flight of steps, or whether there is seating or a hearing loop available, could be the deciding factor for someone considering whether or not to buy tickets.” That’s why it’s important to be detailed but clear, while including as many pictures as possible so guests can make their own judgment. Finally, ensure you include your contact information so any questions you don’t cover can be put to you personally.