When everyone is included, everyone wins - Jesse Jackson.
Inclusion indeed matters. Accessibility Matters. Making space accessible for everyone at your meeting is important. Making your event accessible and inclusive will be important for those it directly impacts but will send everyone a clear message of welcomeness. Inclusion is something that all of us in the meetings industry need to focus on and provide more at our events if we want them to continue to grow and attract new members.
Making meetings more inclusive means thinking of ways to allow everyone to participate. It could be offering a streaming option for people who aren’t able to travel because of childcare needs, disability, government limitations, business decisions, or financial hardship.
It could also make your meeting a space for everyone to feel safe and welcome. Through your marketing and communications, let attendees know that everyone has a place at your event. Work with your designers and communications teams to create messaging and graphics that appeal to all the different audiences.
For attendees to have the best-rounded learning experience at your event, means they need to learn from new and fresh perspectives. When choosing your speakers for your event, try reaching out to new, diverse groups you haven’t traditionally worked with. Don't be shy about asking for help or asking others what groups exist in your field that you may not be including. As planners, we have vast networks, and your staff and planning committees do.
When choosing your event locations, remember how accessible they are to enter, move about, and exit the space physically. Newer and remodeled properties may be better suited for access than old or more historic venues. Make sure doors open and close with ease and that each space you use has a flat entrance or ramp to enter and exit. Also, be sure in the event of an emergency, all of your attendees can safely exit the venue. Keep in mind that you should never use space that only some of your attendees can go to based on mobility limitations.
Once you have found your venue and begun the planning phase, consider the height of the tables and desks that participants may encounter from registration to the buffet lines. Table height may be an issue of safety as well as convenience for some attendees. For meal service, you can ask the venue to have staff ready to support anyone who needs assistance during meal times.
In meeting rooms, it is important to make sure everyone has a seat to enjoy the content. This may mean removing chairs at different points in the room to ensure wheelchairs have access to be parked or that people who use specialized equipment have a place to store items while in session. Don’t forget to keep accessibility in mind when designing your stage sets, where everyone has access to awards and speaking opportunities. Nearly all properties have ramps or chair lifts, which can be rented. Ensure this is included in your contracts and RFPs so you have time to plan and budget for any option you need.
Focusing on mental health as a part of inclusion is important, too. Sometimes, people need to step away from the hustle and bustle of events, and they may appreciate a quiet room for meditation, reflection, or prayer. Try honing in on a quiet area in your event space and setting aside some appropriate furniture for participants to spend a few moments to recharge. Consider bringing in counselors, coaches, or advocates as resources for your attendees.
Another way to show inclusion onsite is to work with your properties to convert restrooms throughout the facility from single-sex-only spaces to open spaces for everyone. This can be done with signage, and your venue can help guide where to place the signs and which restrooms would be the most appropriate. Other venue options to look for or to create in the space to make it more inclusive are nursing mother’s rooms or parent rooms, where nursing mothers can go if they wish to privately pump or feed. Also, consider having an open policy for nursing mothers to nurse anywhere they feel comfortable.
Be sure to ask your participants what they need to successfully attend your meeting. This could be asking for help from your AV provider, working with an accessibility coordinator, or hiring specialized support for your meeting. Collecting information from your attendees and speaking directly with them will allow you to understand their specific circumstances and create an environment best suited for them.
The ways you can work to make your meeting inclusive are endless. Keeping your eyes open to how people move about your space and the feedback from attendees about how the meeting made them feel will be your best guide to doing what your attendees need. Learning and appreciation for others take place when everyone is at the table learning and networking together.