For daylong events, food becomes a question. Some organizers will opt to arrange for food for participants. Some organizers expect participants to head outside the venue during the lunch break to eat at a nearby restaurant or the canteen facility at the venue.
If you expect your participants to make their own arrangements for lunch, ensure that:
- Participants have sufficient advance notice of this.
- The canteen facility is affordable and accessible.
- If there is no canteen facility, the nearby restaurant options that are accessible for persons with disabilities are affordable.
- If there are no affordable and accessible restaurants nearby, all participants with disabilities should be given the option of ordering takeout lunch (at their own cost, if that is how everyone else is doing it) from a nearby restaurant that can be picked up and delivered during the lunch break. If possible, provide them with the menus of all the nearby restaurants that may provide this service.
- There is a clean and accessible space for people to eat their packed lunches.
Don't: make a separate eating arrangement only for persons with disabilities as this may make them feel segregated or cut off from the rest of the participants.
For events where catering is provided, it is a good idea to include questions about the dietary preferences and restrictions of participants in the confirmation sheet (See section titled "Confirmation sheet" below). Budget constraints may not allow you to cater to every individual's needs, but you can at least be advised of the options and do what you can within your limitations. One good practice is to label each meal item with common dietary preferences and intolerances/ allergies - vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or contains gluten, fish, eggs, lactose-free, dairy product, et cetera. If any participant has a food allergy, discuss with your caterer the possibility of preparing an allergen-free meal only for them. Confirm with the participant if this is acceptable to them. In general, ensure the meal has enough options for protein, fat and complex carbohydrates.
As far as possible, opt for reusable sturdy tableware for participants. Also, organize for tables and chairs to sit and eat food for those participants who may want to do so.
Some participants with disabilities may require support to pick up food from a buffet. This can be offered in two ways.
- A support person accompanies the participant to the buffet, tells them what items are available, asks them the items and the quantity that they would like, and serves the meal to them.
- A support person informs the participant, who is seated at a table, of the items on offer in the buffet. The participant responds with the names of the items and quantities they would like. The support person then fills the plate accordingly and places it in front of the participant. In case of a visually impaired participant, with their permission, hold their hand and place it above each different item of food to explain where each item is. Ensure that a support person is available to get refills of whatever the participant would like more of.
Some participants may need feeding support. Usually this is provided by a support person or a friend, but in case they come alone and request this support, it should be given to them in a dignified manner.
We are all trying to reduce the use of plastics and so may opt for renting glasses to be refilled from a bubble top canister or water cooler by the participants themselves. Please be mindful of participants who may need support for this. In the information document (See section titled "Information sheet" below) you may inform participants to bring their own bottles or cups to drink from. In case of tea and coffee, ensure that dairy-free and sugar-free options are available.
Budget for: drinking water and straws, glasses where necessarynext: Planning the room