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Plan an Accessible Meeting

Advanced planning may help to ensure that the accommodation needs of people
with disabilities are anticipated and acted upon ahead of time. Even when you
may not know in advance whether any of your participants may need accommodations,
you should be prepared to arrange your meeting or event to be accessible
so that people with disabilities can participate fully.

Short workshops, information sessions, focus groups, media conferences or events
of a few hours in duration may not require the same detailed preparations
that lengthy conferences or conventions require, such as determining dietary
requirements when planning menus and arranging overnight guest rooms. However,
many of the same pre-event planning steps apply to both.

The following guidelines are meant to help you plan your meeting or event.
They reflect an optimal level of accessibility. Some facilities may not meet
all of the criteria outlined below. If you are in doubt about the level of accessibility
at a potential venue, it is recommended that you consult with
a local disability group who has expertise in barrier-free access and/or meeting

Two important areas need to be considered when arranging accessible meetings
– physical access to the meeting space and access to the meeting contents and

Here are some general points to think about when planning an accessible meeting
or event.

  • Ensure that a member of your staff is responsible for making the
    event accessible.
  • Be prepared to respond to accommodation requests in the same manner
    that you respond to other requests and questions about the event.
  • Ensure that the invitation or notice of meeting includes information
    about the accessibility of the event.
  • Investigate what local resources are available, for example, sign
    language interpreters, accessible transportation, emergency veterinarians (for
    animals) and wheelchair repair services, when preparing for longer events.
  • Schedule sign language interpreters and/or real-time captioners
    as soon as possible after confirming the date of the event.
  • Before confirming the date, find out if other disability-related
    events are taking place in the area during the same timeframe. This may have
    an impact
    on your event and availability of service providers.
  • If the event’s participants are responsible for their own meal
    arrangements, find out what local restaurants are accessible.
  • Investigate the availability of installed or portable FM Listening
    Systems in meeting facilities for people who have a hearing loss. (An FM system
    of a transmitter used by the speaker and a receiver used by the listener.)
  • Investigate the availability of telephones with auditory adjustments
    for people who have a hearing loss.
  • Check to determine whether there are visual fire alarms. If not,
    inquire about the facility’s evacuation plan or create your own.
  • Determine the availability of a TTY. Ensure that your staff has
    been trained on how to use it. (A TTY is a device that is used by persons who
    are deaf
    and hard of hearing to communicate through telephone lines.)
  • Ensure that the conference website is available in a format that
    is accessible to people who use screen readers.
  • Ensure there is at least one telephone that can be used by a person
    who is seated.
  • Check to see if the customer service areas (i.e., counters, display
    tables, etc.) are low enough for wheelchair or scooter users to see over.
  • Make sure that any additional signs specific to the event are created
    in large print.
  • Determine a suitable relieving area for guide dogs.
  • Provide water bowls for guide dogs.

Here are some specific points to consider.

Choosing the location

  • Plan an on-site visit to the location under consideration in order
    to determine its level of accessibility before you book your event.
  • Determine if the site has been recommended by a credible local disability
    organization with expertise in barrier-free access.
  • Determine the appropriateness of the location through previous successful
    experiences involving people with disabilities at that venue.
  • Inquire about recent renovations or current construction that may
    have an impact on accessibility.
  • Determine whether the staff at the location has been sufficiently
    trained in disability awareness. If not, arrange for training from a recognized
    prior to your event.

Exterior Access


  • Ensure that the signs for the street address or building name are
    clearly visible from the street.
  • Check to see that the signs are well lit during evening events.


  • Determine that there are a reasonable number of accessible parking
    spots available for the estimated number of attendees with disabilities. Arrangements
    can be made with the owners of the meeting facility to permit additional spaces
    to be used for designated parking close to the building for the duration
    of the event.
  • Ensure that the designated parking spots for people with disabilities
    are on a firm, slip-resistant surface and located close to the entrance of the
  • Determine whether there is a curb cut or level access provided from
    parking area to the main entrance.
  • Ensure snow removal during winter events.
  • Investigate whether accessible metered parking or public parking
    lots with accessible spaces are available close by the meeting facility if a
    large number
    of attendees with disabilities are expected.

Sidewalks/Path of Travel

  • Determine that there is a barrier-free path of travel from the
    parking lot or drop off area to the meeting entrance, avoiding stairs, sudden
    changes in
    level, slippery or unstable ground, or objects obstructing the path of travel.
  • Ensure snow removal from the path of travel during winter events.
  • Ramps, if required, should be gradual in slope and have handrails
    on both sides.
  • Sidewalks should be clearly separated from the road and driveway
    for safety reasons.

Accessible Transit

  • Make certain that the location is serviced by accessible or parallel
    transit services.
  • Ensure there is a drop-off area available in front of the building.
    A covered drop-off area is preferred.

Interior Access

Entrances and Lobbies

  • Make certain that an accessible entrance is available with all
    doorways wide enough for the passage of a person using a wheelchair or scooter.
    through the main entrance is highly desirable.
  • In the case when the main entrance is NOT accessible, ensure there
    is a clearly visible sign at the front of the building indicating the location
    of the
    accessible entrance.
  • Check that entrances are well lit and not located in isolated areas.
  • Ensure that entrances do not lead to locked doors with buzzers or
    bells that must be pushed to permit access.
  • Ensure that the door handles are easy to open without individuals
    having to twist their wrist. Ideally, doors should have lever handles and be
    with an automatic door opener.
  • Provide signs indicating where the meeting is taking place within
    the building.
  • Ensure that the signs are large enough and clear enough to be read
    by people with low vision.
  • Make sure the signs are mounted at a comfortable height for both
    people who use wheelchairs and people with low vision.
  • Arrange for staff or volunteers to be available at doorways and
    throughout the facility to direct or assist people with disabilities to the
    meeting location.


  • Determine that the elevators are located close to the meeting facilities
    and are large enough to hold power wheelchair and/or scooter users.
  • Ensure there are enough elevators to safely and conveniently transport
    the number of people using mobility devices attending the session.
  • Where lifts must be used, make certain they are safe and easy to
    operate with enough space to accommodate both wheelchair and scooter users.
  • Determine whether Braille buttons and raised numerals have been
    provided to assist people who are blind or have low vision.
  • Verify that the elevator controls are mounted at a comfortable height
    for a person using a wheelchair or scooter.
  • Make sure that the elevator has an auditory signal to alert people
    who are blind or have low vision.
  • Check to see that the elevator has a visual cue system in each elevator
    lobby to alert people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

Accessible Washrooms

  • Make sure the washroom doors have a raised (tactile) male or female
    sign or Braille lettering.
  • Check to see that washroom doors are equipped with an automatic
    or push button door opener.
  • Ensure the location has washrooms that are large enough to accommodate
    scooter and power wheelchair users and are equipped with at least one accessible
  • Ensure the location has at least one accessible unisex washroom
    on the same floor as the event. A minimum of a five-foot turning radius is needed
    wheelchair users to manoeuvre without restriction.
  • Make sure that the faucets are reachable by a person using a wheelchair
    or scooter and can be operated using one hand.
  • Check to see that other washroom accessories and dispensers are
    within easy reach of a person using a wheelchair or scooter.
  • Make certain that the accessible washrooms are located in close
    proximity to the meeting rooms.

Hallways and corridors

  • Check to see that major hallways and all essential doorways throughout
    the facility are wide enough to permit the passage of people using wheelchair
  • Ensure that all interior doors are easy to open with one hand without
    twisting the wrist.
  • Determine that low pile carpeting, hardwood flooring or tile has
    been used as the floor finish to ensure that a wheelchair or scooter user can
    easily throughout the facility.

Meeting and Conference Rooms

  • It is preferable for the meeting room to be located on the building
    entry floor.
  • Ensure that the boardroom or meeting room is large enough to provide
    circulation and seating for an adequate or anticipated number of participants
    use wheelchair, scooters, guide dogs or other mobility aids.
  • Check to see that accessible seating is available throughout the
    meeting space.
  • Determine that the reception/refreshment areas are in an area large
    enough to provide circulation for participants who use wheelchair, scooters,
    dogs or other mobility aids.
  • Ensure that the stages and speaking areas, including lectern or
    podium are accessible to wheelchair and scooter users.
  • Ensure that there is a well-lit space provided for the sign language
    interpreter when interpreters will be present.
  • Check for noise levels (ventilation systems, noise from adjacent
    rooms etc.) which may be distracting.
  • Check to see that the meeting room has appropriate requirements
    (drapes, blinds, etc.) to provide reduction of light or glare from windows.
  • Ensure that cables, wires and microphones are well secured and do
    not block traffic.
  • Remind guest speakers and exhibitors to be prepared to provide printed
    handout materials in alternative formats should alternative formats be requested
    in advance.

Making refreshment and dietary arrangements

  • Where beverages are being served, bendable straws and lightweight
    cups should be made available within easy reach of individuals in wheelchairs
    or scooters.
  • Make available non-sugar (dietary) beverages, juices and water for
    people with dietary concerns such as diabetes.
  • Be aware that self-serve meals or buffets may present obstacles
    for some people who are visually impaired or people with a physical disability.
    catering service staff can provide assistance to participants who require additional
    help. If catering staff is not present, ensure that someone is assigned
    to assist those who need help getting food.
  • Check to make sure that an alternative to pastries and cookies,
    such as fruits or vegetables, are available for people with dietary concerns.
  • Provide an opportunity for participants to indicate their dietary
    needs on any registration form or invitation to an event where meals are being

Producing invitations and promotional materials

  • Ensure invitations and promotional material about your accessible
    event are identified with the International Symbol of Accessibilityand other
  • Provide invitations in alternate formats for people or organizations
    that require or request them (i.e. Braille, on audiotape, via e-mail, in large
    on computer disk).
  • The invitation and promotional materials should include a note that
    asks participants to request any additional requirements they may have in order
    fully participate in the meeting or conference.

Ensuring accessible communications

It is important to consider the communication needs of your whole audience
when preparing your meeting or conference, and accessibility is one important
component of your communication plan. However, accessibility to print documents
is not the only need you must take into consideration. It is important
to make any oral presentation available to people who are deaf through a qualified
sign language interpreter. Print materials need to be made available
in French and in formats readily accessible to people who are print disabled.

When preparing for any public event, with or without a disability focus, it
is suggested that you:

  • Arrange for a sign language interpreter and/or real-time captioner
    to be present.
  • Promote the fact that your materials are available in alternative
    formats and in French, and provide contact information on how to obtain these
    on printed materials.
  • Display, and have available for distribution, materials prepared
    in alternative formats in both French and English.
  • Adjust the numbers of multiple format documents you will need according
    to the anticipated audience. For example, if the anticipated audience consists
    of seniors, you may consider producing a greater number of printed materials
    in large print.
  • The following is a guideline for quantities for a general public
    event, such as a trade show or exhibit:
    • One English and one French Braille copy for display
    • Two English Braille copies and one French Braille copy for distribution
    • One English and one French large print copy for display
    • Five large print copies of English and three large print copies
      of French for distribution
    • One English and one French audio cassette for display with large
      print/Braille labels. Consider CD ROM format in addition to tape.
    • Five English and two French audio cassettes for distribution with
      large print/Braille labels. Consider CD ROM format in addition to tape.
    • One English and One French computer disk for display with large
      print/Braille labels. Consider CD ROM format in addition to disk.
    • Five English and two French computer disks for distribution with
      large print/Braille labels. Consider CD ROM format in addition to disk.
    • For small sized promotional materials such as a bookmark, copies
      are available in English and French with Braille overlay indicating the name
      of the document
      and contact information. For an anticipated audience size of 500 attendees,
      200 English and 50 French copies.
  • Respond to specific customer’s requests for preferred alternative
    formats by making post-event production and delivery arrangements if required.

Communication support services help people with disabilities access information
presented orally at meetings, conferences, and public events. In pre-event
planning, each participant should be asked if they require any special accommodations.

Sign Language Interpreters

A sign language interpreter is necessary whenever communication is required
between deaf and (non-signing) hearing people. Interpreters should be available
at events, meetings or presentations attended by people who are deaf, deafened
or hard of hearing.

Real-Time Captioning (also known as CART)

Real-time captioning can make a meeting or presentation accessible to people
who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing and who may not use sign language.
It provides simultaneous (real-time) speech to text translation. A real-time
captioner uses a court reporting steno machine, coded to type verbatim text
with minimal keystrokes. The steno machine is connected to a laptop containing
special software that converts the key strokes and displays the text being
spoken for the user to read on an overhead screen or monitor.

Computerized Notetakers

Computerized notetaking is a service that can make a meeting or presentation
more accessible to people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. It may
also be requested by people with visual disabilities because it allows them
to refer to the saved electronic notes afterwards using screen reading software.
Notetakers use a laptop computer with a standard keyboard and an overhead screen
or monitor. Computerized notetaking is not a verbatim transcript, but
summarizes what is spoken while still maintaining accuracy and the sprit and
intent of the speaker.

Assistive Listening Systems

An assistive listening system receives a feed from the audio system found in
lecture halls or meeting or conference rooms. This communication support makes
it easier for people who are hard of hearing to hear and understand speech even
from a distance. For example, a wireless FM system, which consists of a
transmitter and receiver, can be used with or without a hearing aid.


Intervenors may guide and interpret for people who are deaf-blind. Intervenors
are trained in special sign language that involves touching the hands of
the client in a two-hand, manual alphabet or finger spelling.

Communication Support Attendants

Communication support attendants help people with intellectual disabilities
access information presented orally at meetings, conferences, and public events.

Providing attendant care services

Attendant care services to people with disabilities include assistance with
personal care and escorting to community outings. To ensure that adequate arrangements
are made, ask the participant prior to the event about the level and type of
service required. Clearly describe the specific needs of the participant to
the vendor.

Meeting Accessibility Policy of the Canadian Hearing Society

The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) supports the rights of people who are deaf,
deafened and hard of hearing and is committed to ensuring accessibility to
information communicated during all meetings, workshops and other communication
sessions. It is therefore the CHS policy that any meetings, workshops or
other sessions follow the following guidelines for accessibility and communication.
It is the responsibility of the designated Chairperson of the meeting
to ensure the policy is adhered to and that accessibility issues are prepared
for prior to the commencement of the session in question.

Interpreters and Real-Time Captioners/Notetakers

Every session will have sufficient interpreters and/or real-time captioners/notetakers.
Which service(s) will be provided will depend on the participant’s
request. Based on availability, a real-time captioner will be the preference.
Presenters must remember that the captioner/notetaker is in a fixed position
due to equipment. All equipment must be in good working condition. Should there
be any problem with accessibility requirements e.g. interpreters or captioner/notetaker
not available, equipment not working, the session will be cancelled. Furthermore,
should accessibility requirements falter during the session e.g. equipment
stops working, the session will be stopped until the required adjustments are

Facilities/Meeting Flow

Prior to beginning the session, the Chairperson will ensure that all physical
adjustments are made e.g. blinds and lighting adjusted as required. The Chairperson
will designate someone to keep a speakers list to assist with time management
and the flow of the meeting.


Everyone (including interpreters, captioner/notetaker) must be able to see
each other and the presentation clearly. Seating must be made available for
who lip read to ensure sightlines. Tall objects such as water bottles should
be kept off the tables. Equipment must be positioned in the least restrictive


Common background noises can interfere with hearing speech (for anyone). All
present should avoid noises such as flipping pages, rocking chairs and sliding
coffee mugs while speaking. Likewise, if the overhead projector is not being
used, it should be turned off. Consider visual noise as well. One example
is to avoid cluttering the wall directly behind the presenter with flip chart
paper. Avoid mannerisms or bright clothing that create visual distractions.

Reading Time

Presenter should pause to allow participants to look at overheads, papers,
or other visuals. Stop speaking and wait for the participants to resume eye

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