Event accessibility: Making every occasion inclusive for all

As we enter a season bustling with graduations, weddings, and other gatherings, the needs of individuals with disabilities are often overlooked. But with a bit of foresight, we can ensure that all attendees feel welcome and comfortable. Here are seven ideas to help make your events more accessible and inclusive.

1. Inclusive RSVP

When planning an event, the first point of contact is often the RSVP or invitation. Including a section where attendees can indicate if they need any accommodations is crucial. This can be as simple as a checkbox on an online form or a line in the invitation that says, "Please let us know if you require any accommodations to participate fully in this event."

For example, if you're hosting a luncheon or a community event, informing attendees that they can request accommodations, such as an ASL interpreter, accessible seating, dietary needs, or information about the facility’s accessibility, sets a welcoming tone. It also allows you to prepare in advance, ensuring that everyone has a seamless and enjoyable experience. 

2. Accessible parking 

Parking can be a significant challenge, especially for individuals with mobility issues. Make sure that your event venue has adequate accessible parking spots close to the entrance. If parking is limited, consider reserving spaces or creating temporary accessible parking areas. Additionally, provide clear directions and signage to these spots. Another idea is to use a valet service.

For example, the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland area, of which I'm a board member, held an event with several locations for parking. There was a designated accessible parking area near an accessible entrance for people with disabilities, and volunteers directed traffic to make sure those with accessibility needs found the right place to park. 

3. Effective use of microphones 

Good sound quality is vital for an inclusive event, particularly for attendees who have difficulty hearing. Always use a microphone during presentations and ensure that the sound system is clear and loud enough for everyone to hear. If your event includes a Q&A session, provide a microphone for audience members to use when asking questions.

Consider the needs of individuals who may have difficulty hearing. Providing assistive listening devices or ensuring that your venue has an induction loop system can make a significant difference. Encourage all speakers and audience members to use the microphone, which helps everyone stay engaged and informed.

4. Explain venue layout 

The physical layout of your event venue is another critical factor. Make sure there aren’t physical barriers that could impede access for people with disabilities. Include ramps or elevators for stages, wide aisles for wheelchairs, and accessible restrooms.

For example, I attended an event where there was no ramp to the stage, making it impossible for me to participate fully. Simple adjustments, like adding a portable ramp or choosing a venue with accessible facilities, can prevent such issues. Also, make sure restrooms are clearly marked and accessible, providing enough space for wheelchairs and other mobility aids. At one Community Foundation event, the person in charge made a point of coming up to me to share where the restrooms were located. When people take those extra steps, it makes you feel included. 

5. Sensory-friendly spaces

Events can be overwhelming for individuals with sensory issues. Providing a quiet room or a designated sensory-friendly space can offer a retreat from the hustle and bustle. This room can be equipped with comfortable seating, dim lighting, and minimal noise, allowing guests to take a break and recharge. It gives people an opportunity to slip away for a bit to a space that isn’t so overwhelming. 

6. Service Animal Accommodations

Be considerate of attendees who may rely on service animals. Clearly state in your event materials that service animals are welcome and provide facilities for them, such as a designated relief area. While it might seem like a minor detail, it can significantly enhance the comfort and accessibility of your event for individuals with service animals. Sometimes individuals might not want to go to a public event because they think that they're not able to bring their service animal. 

7. Diet needs

Considering the dietary needs of your attendees is crucial. At a recent luncheon, one of my friends needed to know the ingredients in a dish due to allergies. By providing detailed menu information in advance and being prepared to offer alternatives, you show respect and consideration for all guests. 


Sometimes, the best way to understand the needs of your attendees is to consult with local disability organizations or individuals with experience in accessibility. They can provide valuable insights and suggestions tailored to your event.

The Community Foundation consistently makes efforts to ensure its events are inclusive. They always reserve a seat for me and remove an extra chair to accommodate my wheelchair. This small act of preparation not only makes my experience more comfortable but also demonstrates their commitment to inclusivity.

When your organization prioritizes accessibility, it sets a standard for others to follow. Highlight your efforts in event promotions, and share your experiences with other organizations to encourage broader adoption of inclusive practices.

Making your events accessible doesn't require a massive overhaul; it involves thoughtful planning and a willingness to accommodate the diverse needs of all attendees. By focusing on inclusive RSVPs, accessible parking, effective sound systems, venue layouts, and sensory-friendly spaces, you can create events that everyone can enjoy. Remember, accessibility benefits everyone and fosters a more inclusive and welcoming community.

For more ideas, check out this accessible meeting and event checklist created by Cornell University. 

This article is a part of the multi-year series Disability Inclusion, exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.
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