Physical Access to Conference City
1. Ensure your hotel blocks have an adequate number of wheelchair / physical disability accessible rooms for the number booked for attendees. This requires collecting access information needs on your registration form and repeated communications with the hotel.
Why: For many people, getting assigned a non-accessible hotel room it will make it literally impossible for them to care for themselves. Depending on hotel design, they may not even be able to enter their room.
2. On the conference website and in conference materials, you should offer information on accessible restaurants in the vicinity of the conference center and whether they offer accessible restrooms; only book conference-sanctioned social events at restaurants or meeting places that are fully accessible.
Why: Many are not aware of this but buildings built prior to the ADA do not necessarily need to offer accessible entrances and restrooms, depending on the amount of renovations that would be required.
General Physical Access to and within Conference Center
3. Provide information on the expected travel distance by foot or wheelchair from the conference hotel to the conference center and between sessions within the conference center in advance of the conference (e.g., on the conference website).
Why: This provides critical information on what mobility equipment disabled attendees need to bring
4. Offer electric chairs or carts (as a grocery store would) to disabled attendees with mobility disabilities. If you cannot offer electric chairs, you should provide information on where to rent these in the city of attendance. Many larger cities have rental options for wheelchairs.
Why: Electric chairs are not readily accessible for many due to cost and airlines frequently damage them, making individuals reluctant to travel with them even if they do have them.
5. Add clear directions in the conference materials and in the conference center to all accessible and gender neutral bathrooms. Preferably, as much as possible, conference centers that have several accessible and gender neutral bathrooms should be chosen; these restrooms should be available on all floors and reasonably spaced throughout the conference center.
Why: A number of available restrooms should exist because lines can form between sessions; restrooms should be easy to get to with minimal travel because of time constraints between sessions and to minimize strain on disabled participants who already need to travel long distances.
6. Create a clearly labeled disability access lane (using tape or other on-floor delineation) that functions like a bike lane on roads in the conference center for individuals who need to walk slowly or without being shoved.
Why: There often walkers who push past disabled attendees, sometimes knocking them off balance; it can also be difficult to navigate crowds because of space limitations.
7. Provide quiet rooms within the conference center.
Why: For Autistic and other neurodivergent attendees, quiet rooms allow them to take breaks from the busy and loud conference center that might otherwise trigger great distress.
8. Provide virtual attendance options and nursing rooms in the conference center for nursing parents.
Why: Many lactating parents nurse or pump for two years or longer after the birth of a child, and many begin attending conferences within months of the baby's birth or initiation of lactation. For those who need to pump, rather than nurse, no existing legal protections protect pumping in public.
Presentation and Poster Presentation Access
9. Provide ASL interpreters and live closed captioning – live closed captioning should be available to in-person and remote attendees, in the age of COVID.
Why: Not all people can hear talks; not all people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing can speak ASL.
10. Assume your speakers may need a ramp to the stage and provision one.
Why: Disabled speakers exist and you may not be aware of their mobility access needs; provisioning stage ramps ensures you will not put speakers in an inaccessible situation.
11. Provide optional seats for poster presenters and provide an option to request a poster board lower to the ground for presenters utilizing optional seats or wheelchairs. If possible provide adjustable poster boards to all presenters
Why: Individuals with mobility disabilities who do not use chairs may not be able to stand for the length of a poster presentation. Seated individuals, including those with wheelchairs, need to be able to present from a poster at their level. Providing adjustable poster boards to all presenters allows them to lower their poster when presenting to a seated individual.
12. Make poster aisles at least triple the width of a wheelchair accessible passage
Why: Poster aisles often become crowded with viewers and wheelchair users and others using mobility aids may not be able to pass through busy aisles and gain equal access to popular posters
13. Include guides for speakers on creating colorblind and visual disability friendly talks (high contrast, larger font size, colorblind friendly color schemes) and encourage adherence
Why: Scientific figures often communicate important concepts through the use of color-coding and visual elements. 1 in 10 people with XY chromosomes is at least partially colorblind.
14. Offer guides on creating slide image descriptions and make these available virtually prior to the conference. Request all presenters provide slide image descriptions for all slides.
Why: Blind and low-vision attendees as well as individuals with certain visual processing disabilities rely on image descriptions to access information presented only visually. Many presenters rely on visuals to communicate certain points and do not actively describe the visual aloud because of presentation time constraints.
15. Provide an app to view slides and image descriptions in real time on a personal device during the session; the app should be screen reader accessible
Why: Allows Blind and low-vision attendees to zoom and better see figures in large conference rooms and access image descriptions; allows attendees who may have had to take a break from the conference or attending virtually to fully access the presentations.
16. Add information about accessibility/disability respect in the conference code of conduct.
Why: Attendees often push past and cut in line in front of visibly disabled people to take elevators and accessible bathrooms. This culture is something conferences should clearly decry.
17. COVID-19-related access: Continue to offer hybrid conference options with virtual attendance capabilities; require masking in your public spaces; offer hand sanitizing and tissue stations; choose large conference venues with adequate ventilation; offer spaced seating sections; separate places where eating is permitted, and provide outdoor eating spaces.
Why: Mask mandates have been lifted while access to preventive options like Evusheld remains limited for immune-suppressed individuals for whom the vaccine may not be effective and who remain at high risk for serious illness from COVID. COVID continues to circulate in the US in high numbers, and some counties and states still recommend masking in public during high levels of community transmission though no mandates are in place. However, community transmission data lags behind actual transmission numbers, and therefore serves as a delayed proxy. Immune-suppressed individuals who may need to attend a conference for full participation need indoor masking policies in place. Masking remains the most effective non-invasive measure to prevent COVID spread. Requiring masking at your conference will allow their full participation. If possible, provide masks at the door for individuals who may forget their masks, and have staff enforce the policy.
Last updated: 1/3/2023
18. Provide an option to request additional accommodations during registration, directly follow-up with these attendees, and do everything in your power to meet their needs.
Why: This is a non-exhaustive list, and people may have individual access needs not covered by traditional accessibility accommodations.
19. Establish a channel of response for access requests made by disabled attendees once at the meeting and train meeting staff on these channels and how to respond to these requests
Why: It may not be possible to predict every barrier faced by your disabled attendees, and barriers may arise -- such as inadequate hotel accessibility -- despite best efforts to prevent them. Disabled attendees should be able to expect an adequate and positive response from meeting staff to help them find solutions to barriers they may encounter at your meeting.
20. Provide resources on the conference website related to local nanny services and/or provide hotels in the block that provide offer this service. Note whether local transportation options, such as ride share services, have car seats available in the conference city on the conference website.
Why: Some parents will need to travel with their children because of family caregiving responsibilities and will need these services to safely travel with children and for full conference participation.
21. Hire (and pay) a diverse set of disabled consultants to help plan these and other accessibility-related considerations for your events.
Why: Non-disabled individuals are often unaware of the ways in which conference sites are inaccessible. Disabled consultants should be used to ensure a conference is accessible, and they should be compensated for their expertise. Consultants from different disability perspectives should be selected, to ensure a broad representation of knowledge regarding common access barriers.
22. Ensure conference websites and registration pages conform to WCAG guidelines for website accessibility.
Why: If a disabled person cannot access information about and registration to your conference, they will not be able to attend and will likely be discouraged from attending as they will excluded from the very first step.