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Stop ticking boxes on disabled access

Lizzy Eaton, founder and director, Oddity Events & Marketing, says engaging the disabled business community in events isn’t just about choosing accessible venues

Two years ago, I was responsible for the delivery of a corporate employee engagement event in a trendy central London bar. In theory, it was a straightforward brief with guaranteed success; however, an oversight with the venue selection meant I found myself in hot water on the day of the event. 

A guest requiring step-free access was due to attend, and although the venue was described as accessible, the step-free route was through the back-of-house area used by kitchen and service staff. While the individual was very gracious, he chose not to attend, saying: “When I am invited to events I don’t want to be reminded about my disability when I get there.” This struck me, and made me ask why, in the corporate events sector, are we still box-ticking when it comes to accessibility? 

Are we prioritising style and aesthetics over ease of use for all event attendees? Shouldn’t we abandon the term ‘accessibility’ and strive for ‘inclusivity’ instead?

There are clear risks with failing to put the experience of disabled attendees on the same level as that of their able-bodied peers. Firstly, the impact on an organisation’s reputation could be catastrophic. 

In this era of ‘shareability’ on Twitter and Instagram, we have no control over the opinions attendees are posting on social platforms, so we need to be mindful of shared negative experiences as well as positive ones. 

Equally, if a disabled guest is struggling to access or fully participate with the other attendees, this sets a bad tone for the event in general, suggesting that inclusivity has not been appropriately considered or even that the host organisation doesn’t take it seriously.

The second clear risk of failure to embrace inclusivity in event design is the alienation of a market of potential buyers and the loss of business opportunities. According to the ONS Labour Force Survey (April to June 2017), over 3.4m disabled people are in employment – a material number of this group will be decision makers and budget holders. If we inhibit this audience from participating at B2B conferences and events we are clearly missing out on sales and business partnership opportunities.

Adopting inclusivity doesn’t have to be costly or excessively challenging if it’s considered in the early stages of developing the event concept and design. It could be as straightforward as adding a designated steward to the staffing rota to assist visually impaired or hard-of-hearing attendees, removing physical barriers like registration desks, changing the height of signage or making the step-free route the main route for all users. 

Allowing those with disabilities the opportunity to learn, network and experience products and services in the same way as their able-bodied colleagues means everyone feels that they are a relevant and valued attendee, customer or business representative, which can drive advocacy for your brand.