Accessibility significantly improves the quality and appeal of an event. For many event-goers, it is a necessity, and for all, it makes the event appear safer, smoother, and more pleasant.
The City of Tampere is committed to promoting accessibility through its strategic anti-discrimination programme. Discrimination is also prohibited by law: culture and leisure services must be anti-discriminatory. Failure to comply may bear legal consequences.
The word accessibility is most readily associated with physical accessibility as presented by accessible parking spots, level passageways, elevators, and auxiliary aids. Accessibility can be many other things as well. First and foremost, it is a question of attitude. It is wanting to come up with solutions. It is listening to people. It is an ongoing process. Once the attitude and basics are in place, it is easier to focus on the details.
The best way to ensure accessibility, is to take it into consideration in all phases of the event planning, execution and assessment. It is well worth it to take advantage of experts, e.g. City of Tampere disability and accessibility ombudsman, the Finnish Association of People with Physical Disabilities, and Advisory Board for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities VANE. You should run user-tests of all accessibility solutions prior to the event.
It is easiest to choose a venue that is accessible to begin with. Take the venue owner’s own assessment with a grain of salt. Whenever possible, check out the venue yourself, preferably with an expert. The expert could be, for instance, the City of Tampere disability and accessibility ombudsman, an employee of an organisation for people with disabilities, or a volunteer. Ask the venue owners at an early stage, what they can do to improve the accessibility of the venue.
Accessibility starts with communication. Make your messages easy to understand and distribute it through several channels. Use a font size of at least 12 in all texts. Use clear color contrasts in all texts, pictures, and banners. Avoid placing text on top of images. Where appropriate, use plain language. Modern technology makes it easy to include sign-language videos. Follow accessibility guidelines on your website. In your communications, include information about who can answer further questions about accessibility.
Good signage makes it easy to navigate the venue. It starts well before the entrance to the venue. A good sign features large images and texts with clear colour contrasts. Supplement the signs with audible signage, good lighting and symbols. When placing the signs, take into consideration users at sitting height. On each entryway, have a clear map of the venue, and include all accessibility information. In a large-scale event, it may make sense to have a separate information package on accessibility; but as a general rule, accessibility information should be part of the general event information sources. Make sure your entire staff can answer questions about accessibility.
Reserve a sufficient number of accessible parking spaces and mark these clearly with ISA disability parking signs. Likewise, plan enough room for pick-up and drop-off traffic, taking into consideration that disabled taxis need more room than regular taxis.
Make sure the route from the disabled parking and drop-off area to the venue entrance is accessible. During winter, make sure the route is clear of snow and grit.
Outside of the entry, the wheelchair user must be able to turn around, so do not place poster stands or similar structures in front of or just inside the door. An accessible door or entryway should be at least 850 mm wide. An accessible door can be operated automatically by a button or motion detector. If the door is not automated, it needs to be light to open. A sill or step can be no higher than 20 mm. Any higher than that requires a ramp.
If you have an unmanned coat check, place some of the hooks at a lower height.
Information and service desks
Place information and service desks and stalls on even ground and in accessible locations. Do not make the desks too tall for seated or short event-goers. If people stop at the desk for a longer time, supply some chairs. To ensure communication, use hearing loops (audio induction loops). Make sure to pay special attention to sufficient lighting at information desks.
Stairs and floors
One of the most significant and common issues in accessibility is stairs, or moving between floors. First, make existing stairs as safe as possible: use good lighting, handrails and colour contrasts. For wheelchair users, even a single step can be an insurmountable object. Carrying the wheelchair is unsafe and sometimes impossible, so not a solution. Instead, use ramps, stairlifts or elevators. If the difference in height is small, a ramp is the most practical solution. Make sure the ramp has a small incline, and is sturdy and non-slippery. If the ramp is very long, provide level rest areas in between. If the difference in height is larger, however, an elevator, a stairlift or another piece of equipment is needed. Before the event starts, make sure the elevator is in working order.
Many event venues and organisers ignore the accessibility of the stage, missing out on many high-quality performances. Make your stage as accessible as the rest of your event.
Presentations and performances
Reserve some space for wheelchairs around the stands. Place them in accessible locations. Do not segregate the wheelchair users; make the wheelchair spots a natural part of the area. If the hearing loop system only works in parts of the stands, designate the areas clearly and indicate them during ticket purchase phase.
Toilets, showers etc.
Ensure sufficient toilet facilities. Use symbols along with text in toilet signage. Use the internationally recognised ISA symbol for disabled toilets. Disabled toilets are larger than normal toilets to allow for electric wheelchairs and assistants when needed. Disabled toilets are unisex, because the assistant may be of a different gender. Never use the disabled toilet as a storage room. When it comes to showers, again reserve enough space for large wheelchairs and assistants.
Furniture and equipment
Place furniture and equipment loosely enough to allow easy movement. At a large venue, place chairs for people to rest at regular intervals. Choose sturdy furniture, different-height tables and chairs, and some chairs with arm rests. Make sure there is room underneath the tables to allow access by wheelchair.
Offer assistance when needed, but do not impose it on anyone. People can decide for themselves when and if they need assistance. Some people with disabilities arrive with their own assistants. Assistants should be allowed at the event free of charge, as taking part without the assistant might be impossible. Clearly indicate in all communication materials and ticket vendors, which ticket types include free assistant access.
On the other hand, you cannot expect a disabled person to have an assistant. Make sure your staff is prepared to help. Requests for assistance are generally minor and not time-consuming; things like carrying a meal to the table or helping the person put their coat on. You could have all staff members ready to help, or could have some general assistants at the event. Students of practical nursing, for instance, could learn a lot by participating as event assistants. Remember to listen to the disabled person; they are the expert on what help they need.
Desks and stalls
Stands and stages
More checklists and information through the Culture for all service. The site also includes information on how to find financing for accessibility projects.