This week I attended the Disability Inclusion Panel: Making Events More Accessible event at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Originally planned as a 100-person interactive workshop with panelists, the event grew beyond the original intent.
Over 500 people registered for the free public event, requiring the organizers to look for another venue. (The final count was 400 people attended in person, plus 52 people attended via the livestream.)
The event was moved to the larger Rackham Auditorium venue and the format of the event became more of a panel discussion.
Panelists included seven University of Michigan students, faculty, and staff with different disabilities who shared their personal stories and advice on creating more accessible events, meetings, and classes.
The panelists included:
- Ashley Wiseman (she/her): Associate Director, Global Scholars Program (panel moderator)
- Shanna K. Kattari (she/her): Assistant Professor, School of Social Work and Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) Women’s Studies Department
- Elizabeth McLain (she/her): PhD Candidate, School of Music, Theatre & Dance
- Seif Saqallah (he/his): U-M Alumnus; Graduate Student, Middle East and North African Studies MA and JD Program at the School of Law
- Solomon Furious Worlds (he/his): Staff Member at the Ross School of Business; Graduate Student, JD Program at the School of Law; Co-Founder and Co-Chair, Disability Rights Student Organization
- Dr. Feranmi Okanlami (he/his), Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation; Director for Medical Student Success in the Medical School’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Kayla Williams (she/hers): U-M Alumna, School of Information; IT Analyst at Eli Lilly and Company
Here are my notes from the panel discussion.
Disability Inclusion Panel: Making Events More Accessible
- Which is preferred, person-first or identity-person? Example: person with a disability vs. disabled person. It depends. Mirror the language the person uses to talk about themselves.
Often it’s best to ask the person. And not their parent, teacher, or caregiver (hat tip to Matt May).
- Not all disabilities are visible. Recognize that people who have invisible disabilities may not want to reveal them.
- We don’t consider chronic health issues as disabilities. Be aware that recruitment events, all-day interviews, all-day events can be rough for people with chronic health issues. Build in breaks/quiet time during long days or multi-day events.
- As an event planner, provide multiple communication methods to reach you: phone, text, email, other methods. Not everyone texts, emails, or calls.
- At the University of Michigan, Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) services are only covered for students registered with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), not for staff or faculty.
- Create accessible presentations. Video should be captioned. Audio should have transcripts. Provide info/guidelines to presenters on creating accessible content.
- Common issue at event venues: audience seating may be accessible, but the stage isn’t. Check with your venue about providing a ramp or other features to make the stage accessible. If a stage or raised platform is not accessible for everyone, don’t use it.
- As an event planner, don’t assume you know what people attending your event need. Ask questions,
If you don’t mind, may I ask…
- A possible event statement regarding accommodation for attendees,
What accommodations do you need to fully participate in our event?
Allows everyone who attends to tell event organizers what accommodations they may need: closed captions, food allergies, etc.
- Include resources, accommodations, and a contact person in all postings about the event.
- It’s not a burden or hindrance to provide what is necessary for people to attend your event. Avoid referring to accommodations as “special accommodations.” They aren’t special; they’re what people need for the best event or learning experience.
- When it comes to making accessible and welcoming events, we’re all learning. None of us are experts. We’re in this together.