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Planning an accessible event

Best practice guidelines for planning an accessible event

The University of Maryland strives to make all its programs and activities accessible to those who want to attend. This includes physical and programmatic access/accessibility. Accomplishing this goal requires coordination across campus, as well as the participation of those seeking an accommodation. However, primary responsibility for accessibility rests with the event organizer.

Proactive planning for access and inclusion optimizes the opportunity for a well-planned accessible event and minimizes the need for individuals with disabilities to request accommodations to participate in the event.

The video webinar below will walk you through all of the steps to planning an accessible event.

Accessible event checklist

  • Designate a person responsible for ensuring accessibility of the event, and for facilitating requests for reasonable accommodations

  • Schedule events in accessible locations

  • Make sure the room set up takes into consideration accessibility

  • Include a disability access statement in all event announcements

  • Consider requesting on the event flyers/promotional materials that attendees refrain from the use of scents during the event. Attendees with allergies may experience a variety of symptoms from exposure to scents

  • Add a text box on the registration form for accommodation requests

  • Ensure all communication at the event is accessible

  • Consider proactively providing ASL interpreter and/or CART for the event, particularly for larger events and live-streamed events

  • Decide whether to proactively provide other accessibility measures such as materials in alternative formats

  • Make all virtual event features accessible

  • Ensure dietary needs are met

  • Provide presenters with communication guidelines

  • Reserve event funds for accommodation requests (e.g. ASL interpreting and/or CART)

  • If developing a post event survey include a question about accessibility of the event. Provide multiple avenues for registration if registration is required; e.g. online, paper, in person

Keep in mind that every component of your event should be accessible to ALL participants. Make sure pre-­ or post-event optional tours, social activities, or recreational opportunities are inclusive as well. If an optional activity is not fully accessible, disclose those details in advance so individuals with disabilities have the information needed to determine their interest and ability to participate.

Scheduling events in accessible locations

The university will make every effort to schedule all events open to the public or the university community in an accessible space.

When selecting a location on campus to hold the event, ensure the location is physically accessible. UMD-sponsored events are required to be held in a physically accessible location. Check to ensure that there is an accessible entrance to the building, the room is accessible, and there is a designated accessible restroom. Ensure that elevators are functioning and ramps are unobstructed.

If there is a guest presenter, please confirm with them in advance if they need any accommodations. In some cases, the presentation area might also need to be wheelchair accessible.

If for any reason, a non-accessible meeting room is chosen, and the sponsor receives a request from an individual with a disability, the sponsor must make every effort to work with its respective room scheduler to find an alternate location that is accessible.

The event organizer will need to make sure that there is ADA parking along the path of travel to the facility and that the path of travel is the main path of travel to the entrance accessible. If not, there needs to be an alternative route that is well marked.

Other items to consider:

  • Parking: Is there disability parking along the path of travel to the facility?

  • Path of travel: Is the main path of travel to the entrance accessible? Is there a ramp? Is there an automatic door with either sensor or push button access? If not, is there an alternative route and is it well marked?

    • Ensure there is a clearly marked, barrier-free path of travel from the entrance through the building, to the registration/sign in location, and to the event space.

  • Entrance: Are there automatic doors? If not, you will need to have a staff person to assist with the doors, if needed.

  • Restrooms: Make sure that there are ADA-compliant accessible restrooms located near the event location.

Room setup

Physical access of the space as well as access to the space will also need to be considered when deciding on an event space. When looking at accessibility, it is important to consider the following:

  • Seating: If it is fixed seating, are there areas for wheelchair seating? Can the room set up be modified to allow room for wheelchair seating, without creating a fire hazard?
    • Avoid seats attached to tables.

    • Have reserved seating near front for participants who may have vision or hearing impairments.

  • All aisles need to be at a minimum of 36 inches wide to accommodate a wheelchair or scooter.

  • Stage setup: Is the presentation area accessible to people who use wheelchairs, if needed, for speakers? Is there a well-lit area for interpreters near the podium?

  • If an event includes invitation of the public onto the stage, consider proactively ensuring access via ramp or lift.

  • Consider the accessibility of the podium. For a wheelchair user, a table may be preferred to a podium.

Event announcements and registration

All event announcements (online or print) for university-sponsored events and events held on or off campus need to include a statement informing the public of how to request accommodations for the event.

All electronic event announcements must meet Web Accessibility Guidelines and UMD Brand Accessible Media Content Guidelines. UMD's Office of Marketing and Communications also provides a helpful general email accessibility checklist (scroll down under "Pre-Send Checklists").

The statement needs to include the following details:

  • Event accessibility contact’s name, email and phone

  • Deadline for submitting an accommodation request. The department hosting the event may request as many as 14 days or as few as would be possible to provide the requested accommodation. One week notice is generally preferred.

The registration form should include a space for people to indicate if they need accommodations.

You can use the following example statement as a template for your announcements:

Suggested accessibility statement (long version):

  • “Please contact___________ (event organizer) at _____ (phone and email) at least one week prior to the event to request disability accommodations. In all situations, a good faith effort (up until the time of the event) will be made to provide accommodations.”

Suggested accessibility statement (short version):

  • “For disability accommodations please contact (event organizer) at _____ (phone and email).”

Pre-­event communications, including promotional and registration materials, should disclose any plans to use flash photography, strobe lights, loud/amplified noise or music, or fireworks. Theatrical fog, chemical air fresheners, and other smells added to spaces can make them inaccessible to those with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or other intolerances.

Accessible communications

The ADA requires that event organizers provide effective communication during the event for individuals with communication disabilities, i.e. hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with individuals with disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities. ADA RCEA Event Guide recommends providing ASL and CART services proactively for large and live-streamed events.

Common communication accommodations include:

  • American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation
    • Ensure that event and presentation materials are provided in advance of the event to American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to allow them to familiarize themselves with the content.

    • Interpreters and transcribers can be arranged through UMD Communication Access Services, which assists departments across campus and campus affiliates in scheduling qualified service providers for their events and programs
  • Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)
    • Ensure that event and presentation materials are provided in advance of the event to Communication Across Realtime Translation (CART) providers to allow them to familiarize themselves with the content.
    • Ensure enough space on presentation screen for captioning. Generally, four lines for captioning is needed.

    • Ensure a good contrast of the captions and background (preferably black/white).

    • Ensure roving microphones are available for audience participation.

    • Interpreters and transcribers can be arranged through UMD Communication Access Services, which assists departments across campus and campus affiliates in scheduling qualified service providers for their events and programs
  • Assistive Listening Devices
    • Assistive Listening Devices (ALD) improve sound transmission for individuals with hearing impairments. Different types of ALD are designed for different settings and purpose, i.e. use in a large venue, vs. use in smaller setting. All ALD can be used either with or without a hearing aid or cochlear implant. Audio Induction Loops and FM System are two types of ALD.

    • Accessibility and Disability Service (ADS) has devices for students registered with their office.

    • All UMD lecture halls are required by code to have Assistive Listening Technology built into the AV systems. This can be utilized through a receiver, which the event organizer can check out from the classroom support office by contacting in advance.

    • SECU Stadium and the Xfinity Center have ALDs built in and handsets are located at Fan Assistance upon request.

  • Captioned videos
  • Audio description

    • Provide information about what is occurring on the screen for individuals with vision disabilities.

  • Alternate format for materials.
    • If materials will be provided to attendees, it is recommended to proactively prepare these materials in alternative formats (braille, large print, e-text). The appropriate number of alternative copies varies based on type of event and size of audience. ADA may require alternative materials as an auxiliary aid or service necessary for effective communication if an individual with a disability submits a request for alternative material as an accommodation. Such materials may include:
      • Braille documents (contact:

      • Large print (18 size font)

      • E-text, electronic documents

Virtual events

Virtual conferences are becoming more and more popular. When planning for a virtual conference, event, or meeting it is important to remember to make it accessible for everyone. The following are things to consider during the planning and implementation of your event.

Prior to the virtual event:

  • Invitations should include an accommodation statement and contact for any accommodation requests.

  • Include the specific virtual format being used in the event details so participants can plan for any assistive needs.

  • Have a telephone-based teleconferencing connection available for participants that cannot use the virtual event technology or plugin. Remember that not everyone has full access to internet.

  • Have an IT accessibility point person to help answer any questions before, during and after the event.

  • Test presenter’s audio and video quality; consider having presenters wear a headset for clear quality.

  • Ensure all presenters and videos have captions.

    • Consider if the virtual event can be prerecording instead of occurring live. Pre-recording permits you and your AV team to caption the presentation/videos. This eliminates the possibility of technology issues which may occur during live virtual presentations.

  • Material should be provided ahead of time to allow participants to review the information. Material shared online during presentations are not accessible to individuals using screen readers. If the presenter plans on sharing screens during their presentation, provide the material prior to the virtual event in an accessible format.

  • When creating material for the virtual event, ensure it is accessible.

  • Provide ASL interpreters and CART proactively for large and/or live-streamed events.

Dietary restrictions

Dietary restrictions due to medical conditions can be a serious issue.

If the event is offering food of any kind, make sure that vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are available.

Another option would be to include a statement in all publicity materials requesting that individuals with specific dietary needs contact the organizer to discuss options that can be provided.

Other things to consider:

  • Tables with food should be between 28 and 34 inches from the floor to the top of the table.

  • If you must place food higher than 34 inches, you must ensure a portion of this food is available at the lower level.

  • Knee space: 27 inches from floor to bottom of table if guests will be using table for eating, writing, interviewing, receiving services, etc.

  • Aisles: at least 36 inches wide for maneuverability, and up to 44 inches wide if goods/services are available on both sides of an aisle to ensure access from both sides.

  • Check with catering vendor in advance to determine ingredients in food, so event may provide clear signage on ingredients in food or avoid ordering such foods for future events.

  • Consider providing foods that do not contain common allergens. Identify any foods containing common allergens, such as peanuts or peanut oils. Consider pre-plating these foods for safer offerings.

  • Clearly mark ingredients in food items and place food on separate platters.

Final check: day-of event considerations

  • Ensure there are prepared materials in alternative formats.

  • Ensure that there are copies of materials that are printed in large print and braille.

  • Ensure CART and Assistive Listening Devices connections.

  • Do a final check for accessibility of event space.

  • Ensure approved accommodations are in place.

  • Provide presenters with communication guidelines (see Communication Considerations for Presenters).

  • Review general information regarding service animals (see General Information on Service Animals)

Communication considerations for presenters

Clear communication during presentations provides equal access and inclusion for all attendees of the event. The following best practices are intended to assist presenters in providing clear, effective and inclusive communication.

  • Announce start and end of presentation.

  • Describe verbally locations of the emergency exits, food/beverages, restrooms and a location where someone can locate a staff member.

  • Inform attendees at the start of any activity (such as those that require reading or writing or moving about the room) and ensure that there are accommodations so that all can fully and equally participate.

  • Avoid the use of strobe lights, unnecessary/unusually loud sounds, and exceptionally strong scents.

  • Avoid the use of any inaccessible tool or device, e.g. non-accessible icebreaker activities. Inaccessible tools, devices and apps are not compatible with screen readers.

  • Articulate all information included in slide presentations and describe all materials (such as slides, charts, videos, etc.) in detail. (See Audio Description Guidelines)

  • Ensure all videos are captioned.

  • When reading directly from text, provide an advance copy and pause momentarily if interjecting any information not found in the original text.

  • Periodically check in with participants to ensure they are following the presentation.

  • Avoid covering presenter's mouth. If a mask needs to be worn, consider a clear mask.

  • Use a roving microphone for audience members to ask questions. Repeat questions posed by participants in the audience before responding. (If a microphone is not available, presenter should repeat the question prior to answering.)

  • Allow for written questions.

  • Ensure enough space on presentation screen for captioning. Generally, four lines for captioning is needed, but this should always be checked before presenting and font size should be large enough to view from the back of the room.

  • Depending on length of program allow for regular breaks (every hour to hour and a half) for questions and answers as well as restroom breaks for attendees, service animals, CART/ASL providers, and note takers.

Disability etiquette / communication considerations

  • Focus on the person, not their disability.

  • Use people-first language

  • Do not assume an individual needs assistance. Wait to be asked before offering assistance.

  • Talk directly to the individual, not the interpreter, companion, or attendant.

  • Be polite in greeting; shake hands.

  • Listen carefully, wait to reply until individual has finished speaking.

  • Be sensitive about physical contact and space.

  • Respect an individual’s privacy.

  • Do not make a decision on behalf of a person with a disability regarding what they can/cannot do.

  • Place yourself at eye level when speaking with an individual that uses a wheelchair for more than a minute or two.

General information on service animals

Service animals are permitted to accompany their handler into any event space. The ADA limits service animals only to dogs (in some limited cases a miniature horse) that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task performed by the dog must be directly related to the individual’s disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that the service animal be under control of their handler at all times. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, tag, specific harness, or have any specific certification.

If questions arise regarding the validity of a service animal the ADA only allows two questions of the handler:

  1. Is the dog (or horse) a service animal required of a disability?

  2. What work or task is the animal trained to perform?

If the person responds with yes and indicates a task, the animal is a service animal and should be permitted to accompany their handler in the event. If questions arise beyond this point, please contact the ADA coordinator.


ADA coordinator Emily Singer Lucio offers a training on planning accessible events