How does an event planner spend her weekends? By helping other organizations plan events of course!
For the past few years, I have been on a volunteer committee for a nonprofit called the Street Vendor Project. I work specifically on their annual fundraiser/competition, the Vendy Awards. The Vendy Awards is a wonderful community event that highlights the best food vendors in New York City.
This year the Vendy Awards were held on Governor’s Island. Between the years 1912 and 1966, the Island was home to an Army Fort and then to a Navy Base. Many of the original buildings are still in use around the island, including the building that we were lucky enough to use for storage during the event. As we were moving supplies into the building, we quickly realized that we would not be able to use the dolly as there were no ramps.
This challenge got me thinking of the ways that we as event planners must make sure our events are accessible to all our attendees.
A starting point when discussing accessibility for those with disabilities is to determine what qualifies as a disability under the American with Disability Act of 1990. According to the ADA, a person with a disability is anyone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more activities in their daily life. A way to make sure you are aware of any attendees who might have a disability is to include a section in your registration for someone to indicate if they have a disability or will require additional help.
Once you begin your planning, the first place to confirm ADA compliance and accessibility is with the event location. Is the location ADA compliant? Specified in Title III Section 36.102 of the ADA, “All public accommodations, commercial facilities or private entities that offer examinations, applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing must be accessible to patrons and/or employees who need or want access.” Both the organization holding the event and the location itself are liable for upholding ADA compliance. ADA compliance can be particularly tricky if the event you are holding is being held in a historic building or in an unconventional location. Make sure to talk to your contacts at the location to confirm ramp access, elevator banks, and emergency evacuation procedures.
The second item on your checklist should be audio visual needs. There are many ways to assist those attendees who are hearing impaired, such as sign language interpreters, purchasing or renting assistive listening devices or using real time captioning.
The third area to be aware of is dietary requests. In 2012 the United States Department of Justice announced an agreement that “Food allergies may constitute a disability under the ADA.” This additional category of compliance is especially important to planners. Honoring special diet requests are no longer just good customer service, but now a federal right.
Aspects of accessibility compliance are difficult, time consuming, and expensive, but it is all worth it to hold an inclusive event where each attendee is able to participate just as much as the next. For more information on ADA compliance visit www.ada.gov or speak with your legal counsel.