According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as one in four adults in the U.S. live with some type of disability. Many types of challenges can impact individuals, like hearing or vision impairments, mobility limitations, and cognition disabilities, to name a few.
It’s essential to strive for inclusivity and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance for every event you plan — gatherings that are often called “ temporary events.” This helps to provide the best possible experience, making your event more open and accessible.
At the same time, an accessibility-first strategy can help you avoid difficult — and expensive — lawsuits.
Table of Contents
What is event accessibility, and why does it matter?
Teams that prioritize event accessibility make sure that folks from all walks of life can participate in each event to the fullest extent. For example, teams might source wheelchair-accessible venues, allow service animals, and include sign language interpreters. They may also ensure plenty of space for folks to sit comfortably, so no one is crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with anyone else.
The best events champion accessibility. Many policies and laws exist to ensure that your event appeals to the most diverse participants, including the ADA
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The ADA is a law that provides fundamental rights for people with disabilities and protects them from discrimination. The ADA became the law of the land in 1990, with several rounds of subsequent updates and revisions since then.
As the U.S. Department of Justice explains, disability rights are civil rights. To this end, the ADA protects people with disabilities across many areas of public life, from parking to voting and everything in between. Its primary purpose is to ensure that people with disabilities receive fair and equal access to opportunities regardless of their physical or mental condition.
Are public events subject to ADA?
Certain events must comply with the ADA. For example, Title III of the ADA requires all buildings and facilities open to the public to remain accessible to all. This also includes temporary structures that may be set up during an event.
Do private events need to be ADA compliant?
Events at private businesses that own, operate, lease, or lease to places of public accommodation also need to pay attention to the ADA — including restaurants, hotels, and private schools. Under Title III of the ADA, private clubs and venues must comply with ADA regulations when opening their facilities to the general public.
You will most likely be legally required to ensure your event is accessible. But even if you don’t have to comply, following diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) best practices is still a good idea so your event appeals to the most people possible.
What are sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?
In addition to the ADA, event teams should also know about the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. It applies to federal contractors, agencies, and programs receiving federal funds.
Within the Rehabilitation Act, there are some essential parts event teams should keep top of mind, including the following:
- Section 504 ensures that programs or activities receiving any federal financial assistance can’t discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities.
- Section 508 mandates that federal agencies provide equal access to information and communication technology for individuals with disabilities. For example, closed captioning should be provided on videos for individuals who are hard of hearing.
What is the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)?
Together, the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act go hand-in-hand with the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which became law in October 2010.
The main purpose of the CVAA is to increase access to modern communications services to people with disabilities. Under this act, communications services need to be accessible by people with disabilities. The law also requires that people with visual impairments be able to access web browsers on mobile devices.
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
Another set of accessibility requirements to know about is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Unlike ADA compliance, the Rehabilitation Act, and the CVAA, the WCAG is a group of recommended technical standards — not laws.
The WCAG, which is published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, explains how to produce web content that is more accessible for people with disabilities. Events teams need to keep the WCAG framework in mind when they’re building event registration sites and digital marketing materials and when they’re hosting virtual events.
ADA Compliance for Events: Key Items To Know and Plan For
The best event teams understand that inclusion and accessibility isn’t just about checking off boxes to achieve ADA compliance for events. Instead, it involves going the extra mile to ensure participants feel welcomed at events — and that someone truly cares about their comfort and well-being.
To ensure you create a fantastic event that gives people with disabilities an equal chance to shine, here are some essential things to remember.
1. Event Location
Accessible events start with picking the right location. Scope out your venue in advance and ensure the infrastructure is accessible to people with physical disabilities. For example, door openings need to be at least 32 inches wide, and there needs to be at least one ADA-compliant door or doorway leading into the facility. You should also ensure that the facility offers accessible and inclusive bathroom options.
2. Hearing Needs
Think about the potential hearing needs of your attendees. To make your event more impactful, offer on-site sign language interpreters and alternative dialogue options for sessions and keynotes via electronic display panels, captions, and subtitles.
3. Vision Impairment Needs
Visually impaired attendees may have difficulty navigating an event or reading signs. As such, offering items like large-print brochures, maps, and guides for those who may require advanced assistance is helpful.
Signage plays an essential role in directing guests around the event. Clear, easy-to-read, accessible signs can help people with different needs make the most of the event experience. Consider using Braille where it makes sense, and create large signs with high-contrast and non-glare finishes so people can easily see them.
5. Wheelchair Needs
Some guests may arrive in wheelchairs and require clear, unobstructed entrances and pathways. Consider removing barriers like carpeting, which can be difficult to traverse with a wheelchair.
6. Event Website
To make your event accessible, you must design your event website to appeal to all people with disabilities. Ensure your website is optimized for screen readers, the color scheme contrasts and is accessible, and any video content has closed captioning.
7. Support Animal Needs
People with disabilities may depend on service animals to move around or cope with certain conditions. You can encourage these folks to attend by creating policies welcoming service animals and establishing accessible areas and animal-friendly walkways.
8. Parking and Transit
People with wheelchairs and other mobility devices require more parking space. Ensure that your facility meets state and local building codes for parking and that you have more than enough spaces available for guests with disabilities. Also ensure the venue is close to public transportation options.
Get Started With the Basics: Registration
Putting on the best events possible starts with understanding the specific needs of attendees. That way, you can establish a friendly, inviting, and inclusive event atmosphere for everyone.
The easiest way to ensure you’re meeting all attendees’ needs is by asking them directly what those needs are. To do that, ensure your event website registration form offers checkbox options for self-selecting their needs. Some options should include the following:
- Assisted listening devices
- Closed captioning
- Reserved front-row seat
- Large print
- Service animal
- Advanced copies of session slides
- Wheelchair access
- Dietary restrictions (List: _______________)
- Other: __________
Prioritize ADA Compliance in Your Event Strategy
If there’s one thing to keep in mind about event accessibility, it’s that the learning process never ends. Experts are constantly developing new ways to make events more open and accessible, which is great.
With some research and guidance, accessibility can become one of your event team’s biggest strengths. To learn more about how to make that happen, check out our free ebook: The Guide to Building a DE&I-Driven Event Strategy.