Inclusive Event Guidelines
2.1. Initial planning of an event
So, you’ve got yourself an arrangements committee. What should you consider first?
Type of event
The most obvious question, and one that’s often quickly decided, is what format the event will take. Most events will be standard conferences, workshops or masterclasses held in a single location, and the majority of our recommendations are geared towards such events. But an important option rarely considered is the online conference, or at least the incorporation of some form of online video conferencing techniques into standard event types. This can be helpful as those with e.g., poor mobility may be unable to make it to a location, and those with fluctuating conditions such as chronic fatigue or anxiety/depression may be otherwise forced to forego your event at the last minute. Please note, however, that online conferencing is not a replacement for other accessibility measures. For more detailed discussion on this topic, see §5.2. Online conferencing.
Another aspect of event organising that is often decided quickly is the spread of responsibilities amongst the arrangements committee. This means that there is a reliance on volunteers for specific tasks, often with some members taking on more of the workload than others. Whilst some workload inequality is unavoidable, we recommend that responsibilities for the organising of the event should be spread as equally as possible amongst the committee. If you are weighting the spread of responsibilities based on current non-event workload, please bear in mind that members of minoritised groups have additional workload that might be invisible to your initial consideration, due to structural problems within the higher education (and wider social) system. For example, female academics are given a disproportionate amount of service work within the institution, and may be sole carers for their children. Alongside this, it is important to understand that two academics with nominally the same workload (in terms of task number/types) may experience a discrepancy between the amount of labour required to perform these tasks, due to structural issues faced those by members of minoritised groups. We recommend that workload should thus be allocated accordingly.
Also, we recommend that sufficient flexibility is allowed within your structures such that work can be moved between committee members if needed. People with fluctuating health needs may need to adapt their workload at short notice.
However, one specific recommendation that we will make here is to have a named individual that can act as first point of contact regarding accessibility requests from potential participants. Though the workload of fulfilling these requests should be shared, having a named first point of contact allows more transparent processes, a feeling of increased inclusion, and increased access to sources of help regarding potential issues. If you wish to implement this, please ensure that their name and contact details are attached to any event communications, alongside the general details for other queries. In circumstances where you have to change this contact during the organisation of the event (e.g., for reasons given above), please advertise this on all event communications (e.g., scheduled emails, event website(s)) as soon as possible to ensure there is no loss of communication. More information on this can be found in §6. Personalised accommodations.
At this early stage, the arrangements committee typically decides the length of the event and divides this time up into a rough schedule. This is then used to structure the event into different types of sessions and ascertain the number of speakers needed. It is tempting to attempt to have as many speakers as possible at your event, and in so doing have very little in the schedule in terms of breaks. This is a mistake. A good rule of thumb is to have at least a 5 minute break every hour, a 10-15 minute break every two talks, and an hour slot for lunch. Not only is this good practice in general, but it provides two additional benefits: it ensures potential social time during the day (thus mitigating the effect of missing evening socialising by those unable to make it, for reasons such as childcare) and it allows sufficient rest time for those who may be unable to maintain sustained energy levels.
As well as substantive rest breaks, we recommend that organisers follow the BPA/SWIP guidelines for conferences and seminars. At this stage, this means allowing time in your speaker slots for a break of 3-5 minutes between the talk and the questions and answers sessions, perhaps by considering longer overall slots. This helps to level the playing field for attendees, allowing for questions to be properly thought through before being asked. In turn, this allows for better incorporation of junior colleagues (including postgraduate students) into the discussion.
When selecting the date(s) for your conference, we have two recommendations to make. Firstly, you should consider selecting a range of days over a certain period, rather than a single day, initially. When you invite speakers to participate (for e.g., keynotes, panels etc.), this will allow them to have some input in the final date. Crucially, this will allow you to more easily secure invited speakers from a diverse range of backgrounds. (More on this in §2.2.) Secondly, you should consider organising your events on dates that do not clash with major religious festivals and national secular holidays (if possible). The following non-exhaustive list should be considered when selecting your dates (listed in the Gregorian calendar for ease of use).
Easter (varies, March/April);
Rosh Hashanah (varies, Sept/Oct);
Yom Kippur (varies, Sept/Oct);
Hanukkah (varies, Nov/Dec);
Eid al-Fitr (varies, June 2018 & 2019);
Eid al-Adha (varies, August 2018 & 2019);
Diwali (varies, Oct/Nov);
National Holidays (various);
(If there are any errors above or you would like to add to this list, please contact us. For festivals with varying dates, please refer to online resources for exact dates.)
The booking of a suitable venue is sometimes left fairly late in the process of organising an event, typically after speakers have been selected and confirmed. But this can be a mistake if you intend to make the event as accessible as it can be. It is important for those with additional needs to have accessibility information for the event’s venue at the time of a call for speakers. This information will allow potential speakers to make an informed decision about their participation in your event, avoiding structural pressures not to submit and lessening necessity for withdrawal closer to the event. Even where this information is incomplete or seemingly unfavourable for your event, it is useful for this purpose. Of course, in order to have this information available at the time of a call for speakers, a venue will need to have been booked or reserved at this early stage. This may be more easily done in some cases than others. For example, if your event is using a venue that is internal to your department, booking is normally fairly simple and free. But even where this is difficult, the benefits to minoritised communities can be great.
When choosing a suitable venue for your event, there are a number of things to consider. You will be considering capacity and location, and it is crucial to include accessibility in your deliberations when doing so. First, please ensure that any venues used in your event are wheelchair accessible (including ramp access and lifts if needed and accessible toilet facilities) – this is central to the access of people with mobility issues. This will include any venues used specifically for social events, dinners and accommodation. Though these may reasonably be booked closer to the event, it is useful to consider the accessibility of routes between potential locations, and between the main location and public transport routes/accessible car parking at this stage. This may help you to decide on a suitable main location.
Second, please consider the access to other resources at your proposed main location. In particular, the access to inductions loops will greatly increase the level at which those with hearing impairments can be involved in your event. Also, the admittance of service animals within the venue will help to make your event more hospitable to attendees with visual impairments. Please check the policies of potential venues in advance. Another potential facility to consider is the availability of gender-neutral toilets. Though many non-binary gender identities choose to use the toilets assigned to one gender, this is not universal, and accommodating the choice to use gender neutral facilities is good practice. Please note that the only gender neutral toilet facilities at a venue may be the accessible toilet(s). Sometimes these facilities are locked and require a key; ensure that the facilities are left unlocked if possible, to allow for freedom of use. For events that are a full day or longer, we’d also recommend researching the nearest prayer space for your attendees, so that those with religious belief have access to a suitable space.
Third, the absence required for attending an event can be inconvenient for many with young children (particularly lone parents). We recommend researching local childcare facilities that might be used in conjunction with your event. In some cases, there are institutional crèches available for this purpose, which may be subsidised. As above, consider the accessibility of the location of childcare services to and from your main location, including distance and wheelchair access. It is also useful to consider the availability of childcare services during social events, or making those events more accessible to parents with young children.
Finally, you might consider the booking of an additional room during your main event to act as a dedicated quiet room. Quiet rooms are simple accommodations that are useful for many different purposes. They can provide a space of respite and rest for those with fluctuating conditions such as fatigue syndromes and anxiety/depression. They can also be used a safe space for breastfeeding if needed. Because the purpose of a quiet room is as a space of respite, please note that communal spaces/common areas are not suitable for this purpose.
For more detailed information on these recommendations and other methods of good practice for considering potential venues, see §4. Accessibility.
For an event to be successful, you’ll need to have rough estimates of costs, so that you can pursue external funding if needed. There are some general considerations, such as venue costs (if any), and providing refreshments for attendees. But there are other considerations that will help to make your event more accessible.
There are a number of cost-related structural barriers that prevent people from various minoritised groups from attending academic events. The first we’d like to highlight is registration fees. Registration fees (alongside ordinary travel and accommodation costs) can prevent those with little financial means from attending events, by making the financial burden on individuals prohibitively high. We’d recommend considering avoiding the imposition of registration fees if possible. In some circumstances, fees may be unavoidable. If so, please considering budgeting for alleviating the financial burden of those in our community more likely to be in precarious work and financial difficulties (e.g., postgraduates and early career researchers), and those with accessibility needs. This could be in the form of providing funding for travel and accommodation costs, subsidising conference accommodation, and waiving registration fees for these groups.
Additionally, we’d like to highlight other services you might offer on the day of the event that would increase accessibility for minoritised groups. For those with visual or hearing impairments, you may need to consider supplying event materials in large-print and Braille formats, and providing the use of a sign language interpreter. For those with young children (particularly lone parents), you may need to consider childcare arrangements during the conference. Given that these services incur costs that otherwise may exclude certain groups from your event, we recommend budgeting to ensure that these costs are not incurred by the individuals if possible. For more information on potential costs and ways of implementing these measures, please see §4. Accessibility. For some suggested sources of funding for these measures, see §3. Funding.
Speakers are mostly given full autonomy over the method of their presentations and preparation time up until the event itself. This has good reason, after all the ability of the speaker is paramount in giving a well-informed and structured talk based on their research. But we suggest that there are reasonable trade-offs to be made in order to ensure better accessibility of the speakers’ resources during the event. In the end, communication and engagement with a speaker’s research is the overall purpose of any talk and any changes that can increase such engagement should be welcomed.
As a specific proposal, we would recommend two measures. First, the request of any materials due to be used by speakers in any session to be made available to the event organisers a reasonable period before the conference (to be determined by those organisers). We’d recommend somewhere in the region of 3-7 days prior to the event (barring scheduled pre-read papers). Given the common length of gap between speaker selection and event, this should not present too much of a problem. Second, the request of certain standardisation of document features (e.g., font size, font type, font/background colours) across presentations. At first glance, this may appear excessive; most speakers will already attempt to use accessible materials. However, it is easy to accidentally reduce accessibility when designing resources. We recommend suggesting minimum standards for handouts, such as clear sans serif font, 12-pt or higher, standard weight (no ‘light’ fonts) and 1.5- or double spacing. We’d recommend similar standards for presentations, with a higher font size minimum, as well as the avoidance of red/green combinations. This allows for attendees with visual impairments to engage more readily with talks. The same standards should also apply to all event literature.
These two measures combined would allow organisers to drastically increase accessibility to an event. Alongside the benefits of clearer projected presentations and paper handouts, it allows organisers the ability to make conference materials available shortly before an event. This can be done in a number of ways, but the most accessible option would be to upload the materials to an online, cloud-based system (e.g., Dropbox, Google Drive or similar) and provide links to follow on the event website and in any event literature (though QR codes may be preferable in physical copies). This achieves three goals: it allows for readily available resources for attendees for proximate access via their smart device(s), it allows for easier incorporation of online conferencing, and it allows extra time for attendees to digest talks where needed. These links can then be deactivated after the event (with some delay if you’d prefer to extend engagement) to revoke access if needed. For more information on methods you might consider taking in this area and how this might connect to online conferencing techniques, see §5. Digital.
We recommend that you have some online presence for your event, and that a dedicated event website is the most useful for this purpose. This is because it has low set up costs in terms of money and labour, but has massive benefits as it can act as a central repository of all relevant information for your event. If you choose to this, you have a ready way of sharing resources (e.g., accessibility information, speaker materials etc.) in a manner of different ways, providing supplementary information which you would be unable to communicate explicitly in e.g., CFPs/CFRs, and hosting live streaming (where appropriate). You will also have a discrete website structure with definite URLs (web addresses) which can easily be shared via hyperlinks or incorporated into your physical resources using QR codes. You might also have listings on PhilEvents, Eventbrite and/or your institutional website.
When considering your options in setting up an online presence, there are a number of things to consider. First, the number of venues you have a web presence is inversely proportional to the ease in which you can update all attendees with information regarding your event. Simply, more things to update increases the likelihood of missing something and reduces your capacity to update regularly. Therefore, we recommend that you keep your web presence to no more than 2-3 places, with a dedicated website that can act as a hub. Second, you’ll need to consider how you’re going to use different websites to achieve your aims. For example, you might want to use Eventbrite to centralise your registration process. Thirdly, it is important to provide as much information as possible to your potential attendees, including accessibility information. You might consider providing full information only on your central website, with links in other websites to point those interested towards this. If you choose this option, it is important to explicitly communicate as much as possible in advertising (e.g., CFPs/CFRs) as well.
There is more to consider regarding your web presence at all stages of your event and in a variety of contexts. As such, there will be continuous mention of this throughout the remainder of these guidelines. However, some things to consider specific to your event’s digital presence is available in §5. Digital.