Disability awareness and planning for accessibility

Most event planners will want whatever occasion they plan to be inclusive. But there’s also important legislation which businesses have to comply with. The UK Equality Act 2010 requires all events – including things like conferences and exhibitions – to be accessible and inclusive. As an organisation that puts on an event, you have to take reasonable steps to find out whether someone is disabled.

The UK Equality Act 2010 defines disability as having:

“A broad meaning; it is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

In Eventbrite’s UK Event Accessibility Guide, they break this definition down further:


Means more than minor


Covers long-term medical conditions (e.g. asthma and diabetes), fluctuating or progressive conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), as well as mental health conditions, learning difficulties (e.g. dyslexia) and learning disabilities (e.g. autism)

And, as set out in the UK Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against disabled people:

“Direct discrimination occurs where, because of disability, a person receives worse treatment than someone who does not have a disability. The Act is intended to stop people being denied a service, or receiving a worse service, because of prejudice.”

As an event planner, you can have more of an impact than you realise. Of course, it’s important to know your legal responsibilities, but there are loads of reasons to promote inclusiveness when organising an event.

You want people to attend and enjoy themselves. For people with a disability, it can be difficult to find accessible events. Be sure to share your efforts in making yours an accessible one for a wider audience.

The Benefits of Inclusiveness

With 15% of the world’s population having some form of disability, it’s important to create experiences with accessibility in mind. That’s over a billion people who might have limited access to events if people don’t consider inclusivity.

In the UK, the 2018 Papworth Trust report discovered 22% of disabled adults report having little choice over their free time. Many people have difficulties accessing services in towns – especially for leisure. This leaves them feeling like they don’t have enough choice or control over what they can do.

In fact, 75% of disabled people have had to leave a shop or business due to the lack of understanding or awareness of their needs. You don’t want people to be unable to attend your event because of a lack of planning.

Common barriers to accessibility identified in the Papworth Trust report include:

With the right planning, you can ensure more people can attend your event. Of course, not every event can be fully accessible, but you’ll notice the benefits if you make reasonable adjustments, remove barriers to movement and inform your audience about the venue and what to expect.

Back in 1999, the Institute for Employment Studies estimated that the spending power of the disabled was £51.3 billion a year. Fast forward fifteen years, in 2014, the Department for Work and Pensions estimated that the spending power of families with at least one disabled person was over £200 billion a year.

Although the press release focused on high street businesses, many of the points can be applied to events too, namely that companies could “effectively be turning away the custom of 1 in 5 people by not attracting disabled people.” In the UK, failing to cater for disabled people means excluding more than 12 million customers and their families.

“That’s the equivalent to the populations of London, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Cardiff and Manchester combined,” Minister for Disabled People Mark Harper said. “It’s not just about fairness, it makes good business sense to be accessible.”

They also highlighted some of the easy, low-cost ways to start improving accessibility:

  • Clearing clutter from corridors and aisles
  • Printing menus, leaflets and brochures in at least 12-point font (14 point is ideal) and being prepared to do larger print if requested
  • Training staff so they are confident in offering assistance when requested, for example, reading a menu out loud or writing down a pric
  • Provide parking for disabled customers or make sure staff know where the nearest suitable parking is located

One of the venues that receives a lot of recognition for accessibility is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park today, which won the Selwyn Goldsmith Civic Trust Award for inclusive design. In honour of architect Selwyn Goldsmith, the award recognises “an environment or building that is responsive, flexible, welcoming, easy to use and occupy; allowing all to use with dignity and equality.”

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was designed with the help of disabled people with the aim of being as accessible and inclusive as possible. Facilities across the park include:

How to plan an accessible and
inclusive event

Disabilities are diverse. Accessibility requirements vary, and will also depend on what type of event you’re putting on. You might come across the following accessibility measures while you’re researching:

Wheelchair access

Door and hallways need to accommodate the width of a standard wheelchair (70cm). If you need to go up or down stairs, there should be a lift available.

Accessible toilets

Wheelchair-accessible toilets need to have room for turning space, so there can’t be unnecessary clutter. There needs to be grab rails and a lowered sink too.

Hearing / induction loop

Used by people who have hearing impairments, this sound system can produce an electromagnetic signal received directly by hearing aids.


Usually presented as subtitles on a screen, it’s important to have text to represent anything spoken.

Audio description

For blind and visually impaired attendees, you can have a narrator to talk through a performance, tour, workshop or demonstration. This is often pre-recorded so it can be played through headphones in real time.

Signed performance

For some events, it might be necessary to hire a trained British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter is present the language used at the same time. They usually stand to one side of the stage.

Relaxed performance

During relaxed performances, lights might be dimmed or loud noises eliminated. It’s an adaptation designed to welcome people with additional needs, such as autistic spectrum conditions and learning disabilities.

Guide dogs & Assistance Dogs

You need to find out whether the venue allows assistance dogs, and what provisions they have in place.

Getting to the event

Although it might not be your responsibility to get people to and from your event, it should be a consideration when planning. You don’t want to choose a location that makes it difficult for anyone to arrive. Ask yourself the following:

To make it easier for everyone to make their way to the event, be sure there’s enough signage in place, or add your own. This is especially helpful for people who haven’t visited the venue before. You can also have people there to welcome guests, which could be important if there’s an intercom system to get into the building. This could be a barrier to access for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment.

Getting around the event

People need to be able to get around the event safely, so the layout must be planned beforehand with different users in mind. On the day, you then only need to ensure all routes are free from obstacles.

Think about how the following could impact someone trying to navigate your venue:


It should be level, solid and slip resistant. If there are any steps, you will need a ramp. You need to think about the routes outside too, and if they need to be covered to create an even surface.


Areas need to be well-lit, but uplighters or tungsten bulbs can be softer on the eyes for long events. If you’re using any screens or projectors, do a test run and check the light levels are suitable.

Tables & Chairs

Always check what table and chairs are provided by your venue. They tend to be one-size-fits-all, which isn’t very accessible, so ask about a range of seating. Ideally, people should have a choice of what is most comfortable for them.

If you have a programme, it’s also worth scheduling in comfort breaks and time between events to make sure people have enough time to get around and relax.

Booking Details

If your event is ticketed or you have any communication with guests prior to the occasion, make sure you use the opportunity to get any access requirements from them. It can be as simple as asking how you can provide the right support on the day. You can then have a conversation about any accessibility issues and even send photos of the space to make sure you’re prepared on the day.

When you publicise details of the event, ask yourself things like:

This will allow people to plan and decide whether the event is right for them.

Best practice checklist for

It’s important not to make assumptions about people’s requirements, so be sure to ask if you’re not certain. Use the following as guidelines to get you started:

Checking your venue

Are there enough designated parking spaces for blue badge holders? 
Can all guests easily get around the venue?
Are access routes free from obstacles?
Is the flooring on all routes around the venue level and solid?
Are ramps available for any steps and lifts for any different floors?
Is the flooring slip-resistant?
Is any carpet firm enough to prevent a wheelchair sinking in?
Are there accessible toilets?

Hiring the right staff

Do you have staff or volunteers available to guide guests if necessary?  
Are staff briefed on evacuation procedures for people with a range of abilities?
Will staff be available to help guests obtain the information they need?

Getting and providing the right equipment

Is all information displayed so everyone can see?                 
Are hearing induction loops present and clearly signed?
Are Language Support Professionals available if necessary?
Is the lighting sufficient for lip readers?
Are any films/presentations subtitled or audio described?
Is a range of seating available?
Do seating arrangements allow access for wheelchair users?
Has seating been reserved for disabled visitors?

Source: Voluntary Arts Briefing