Group exercises should be planned in a universally designed manner. The number of facilitators or trainers should be commensurate with the number of groups so that persons who have various limitations are not left behind or excluded. When allocating time for the exercises, bear in mind that participants who require interpreters et cetera may need more time to complete their tasks/ activities than those do not need someone to help them.
Using a slide deck can be inclusive towards a whole bunch of people while excluding others. Here are some tips for an inclusive presentation:
- Don't fill the slides with text. Use concise sentences to summarize the key points.
- Do use and refer to pictorial representations or illustrations of the topic you are talking about. This also is helpful for people who are not well-acquainted with the English language.
- Do use simple flowcharts and diagrams to show processes.
- Do explain pictorial representations for the benefit of the visually impaired participants before you begin explaining the slide.
- Don't use flashy animation on your slides.
- Don't read aloud the contents of every slide verbatim as a way of explaining it to visually impaired participants, if the contents are a summary of what you will be elaborating on during your presentation.
- Do read aloud the specific content of the slide if it is a quote, an extract of a study, or a law. For example, when referring to it during the course of your presentation/ talk.
- Don't avoid using graphs and other representations of statistics on your slides. You can read out the values of the graph at the start of your explanation.
All audio visual content should be subtitled, or preferably, close-captioned14. If a video contains substantial amounts of visual content that does not get conveyed through its dialogue or sound (think, a movie from the silent era, or a documentary where a voiceover is juxtaposed over scenes from the real world), check if the visual content has been audio-described somewhere15. If not, you may audio-describe it yourself. Watch the film/ video a few times to know what to expect when so you start preparing and recording the audio-description. If it is not feasible to explain the content of the video over a microphone, you may sit beside the visually impaired person and audio-describe it to them as the video plays.
"Icebreakers", "energizers" or other activities
Often events have short exercises, which are meant for participants to loosen up, get to know each other better, or recover energy levels after intense sessions of learning. You do not have to avoid these activities because there are persons with disabilities in the room. There are many activities in which people with disabilities can participate. A search on the Internet will yield ideas for several such activities16, even for groups of persons with visual impairment17. Do not avoid activities that involve dancing, if there are Deaf people in the room. Just make sure they are included in the synchronized dance moves!
Scheduling is very important in making events more inclusive. Organizers should ensure that days are planned with enough breaks between sessions. Breaks are not meant only for visiting the bathroom or having tea. Interpreters and support persons need time to rest, persons with disabilities may take a little longer than non-disabled people to use the bathroom, and for most people, concentrating beyond 90 minutes at a stretch is not ideal. Plan for sessions lasting 90 minutes followed by a break with refreshments. The breaks may range from 15 to 30 minutes. Allocate at least half an hour for the lunch break, so that participants and their support staff can eat and be refreshed for the next session. If the sessions are long and intense, and if it would facilitate the participation of some persons with disabilities, you may also consider brief 2-3 minute 'sensory breaks' where participants remain in the room but the event is briefly suspended.
Events are valuable because of the give and take of knowledge and opportunities for networking with peers. Many events are followed by an informal gathering where participants are encouraged to mingle over food and drink. Check if the after-party space is accessible and navigable for wheelchair-users and other persons with disability. Organizers and the teams should know and imbibe disability etiquette18.
Budget for: a venue that is accessible for persons with disabilities
Premises can be easily evacuable in case of an emergency. One of the first things you should explain to participants is the exit plan. Wheelchairs and stretchers should be available to help evacuate persons with limited mobility. In case of people who have other impairments that may hinder them from reaching the emergency exit in time, and who do not have personal assistants, create a buddy system where a willing co-participant will help escort the person to safety.
Budget for: printing evacuation routes and renting wheelchairs and stretchers.
No matter how inclusive an event you plan, some participants may face barriers to their full inclusion. This is especially true of people with psychosocial disabilities, autism or chronic health conditions.
Reasonable accommodation is defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as "…necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms"19. In other words, reasonable accommodation refers to small adjustments that an organizer can make to the event to ensure that a participant with a disability can participate on an equal basis with others. These adjustments are made notwithstanding the measures already taken for accessibility and design of the event. However, the adjustments should not impose a disproportionate or undue burden on the organizer. Moreover, the provision of reasonable accommodation happens through a dialogue between the organizer and the participant, which considers the measures or adjustments that are feasible within various constraints such as those imposed by monetary budgets. Requests for reasonable accommodation should ideally be made in advance, though some issues may come up on the spur of the moment.
It is not useful to provide a list of possible reasonable accommodations because lists always turn out prescriptive. However, there are examples in the context of education and the Americans with Disabilities Act20:
- Captions for people who are hard of hearing.
- Allowing a person with chronic fatigue to lie down on a bed and attend a workshop.
- Allowing a service animal (like a guide dog for a person with visual impairment) to enter a premises.
- Organizing a personal assistant on the request of a person with disability.
- Providing handouts in large font sizes for people who have low vision.
- Arranging for a participant to eat lunch earlier than others because of medication they are taking.
- Allowing a person with anxiety to do individual work instead of a group exercise.
- Providing warm clothing for a person who feels extremely cold in the venue but the temperature is not a problem for others.
- Paying a travel allowance for a person with a disability for whom public transport is inaccessible.
- Allowing people to bring their own accessibility aids to be used on computers belonging to another organization for a hackathon etc.
When you provide an option for participants to state their reasonable accommodation needs in advance, you can also designate a member of the organization team to be contacted to discuss various options. Reasonable accommodation is a new term even in the disability sector so many people are still trying to understand what it means in their respective contexts.
Budget for: A reasonable accommodation fund (5 to 10% of the total budget can be kept aside for this.)
In the case of events where participants staying at a venue overnight or for a few days, keep the following in mind:
- The entire premises should be accessible. It is unfortunate when people with disabilities have to order room service because the restaurants or dining hall are not accessible. This prevents them from hanging out with their peers.
- If the person requires personal assistance, they may need to hire a separate person to provide support for the second half of the day.
- Plan late evening events sparingly. People may need to rest or change assistive devices and might not be comfortable returning to a work setting in the evenings. Have an honest conversation with your participants before planning an event late in the evening or night.
- Ensure you have the details of accessible healthcare centres, in the vicinity of the event's venue in case of an emergency.
- Provide details of nearby pharmacies, supermarkets or restaurants in the information sheet. Indicate whether they are wheelchair accessible or not.