Thanks to Tara Ayres for contributing! Check out our guide on accessible marches and protests here.
Access doesn’t just happen; it has to be created. This document is intended to supplement event planning manuals, by providing a checklist of major access issues to address. This is not a comprehensive list designed to ensure ADA compliance, but a bare bones approach to minimum accessibility.
People with disabilities need the same things that everyone else does at a party: we need to be able to get to and into the event safely; we need to be able to circulate and participate once we’re there; we need access to a toilet. And we need to be able to do these things independently, as adults, without relying on extra help. These aren’t “special” needs, they’re basic needs. If you don’t have experience paying attention to accessibility, this should help fill in the gaps for you, by giving you the questions to ask.
Simply asking a venue if they are accessible is almost never enough. I’ve had managers tell me that they’re accessible when there are multiple steps into a bar or restaurant, because “we have lots of staff and can carry someone in a wheelchair in.” Or that a place without steps is accessible when the door is too narrow to admit a wheelchair, or there’s no accessible toilet. There’s no substitute for going and checking out a space yourself. Most venue managers probably don’t know any more about access than you do (and probably less than you will if you read this entire document.) If the manager tells you that the venue is accessible, ask how he or she knows. And even venues that were designed to be ADA-compliant may be inaccessible because of how furniture and equipment are arranged, so you may have to address that.
(Note to those new to accessibility issues: offering to carry someone in a wheelchair is never acceptable, unless the building is on fire. Suggesting that carrying someone is an acceptable form of access is a good way to get one of us to run over you with our wheelchair.)
Here are the basic accessibility questions to ask:
- Is there access to public transportation near the venue?
- Is there designated accessible parking that is clearly marked? Is it close enough to provide easy access to the event? Is at least one of the accessible parking spaces van accessible (space with a striped aisle next to it, for a ramp or lift access to a vehicle)?
- Is there a clear and level route from the parking to the venue?
- Is there an entrance that doesn’t have steps or stairs leading to it?
- If the accessible entrance is not the main entrance, is there clear signage directing womyn to the accessible entrance?
- Does the door have a clear opening of at least 36”? (42” would be better.)
- Does the door have an automatic opener or is it light weight enough to be opened easily (5 pounds of force or less)?
Participating – Venue Issues
- Is there an accessible bathroom located on an accessible level (no steps or barriers to reaching the toilet)?
- If not all bathrooms are accessible, is there clear signage with directions to the accessible bathroom?
- Is the door to the bathroom at least 32” wide? (36” would be better.)
- In the bathroom, is there a clear turning radius for a wheelchair to turn around, or enough room for a wheelchair to pull into the room or stall and close the door (36” in front of or beside the toilet)?
- Are the toilet seats between 17” and 19” high?
- Are there grab bars next to/behind the toilet?
- Are all of the interior spaces accessible (i.e. no steps, no doorways less than 32” wide)?
- Are accessible routes free of protruding objects? (This is an issue for both wheelchair users, and womyn with low vision or blindness.)
- If there are tables in the venue, are at least some of them of normal table height, as opposed to high-tops?
- Are exits clearly marked?
- Does the alarm system have both audible and visible alerts?
- Is the stage ramped?
Participating – Production Issues
- Are you going to provide ASL interpreters for speakers, announcements and performers?
- If there are printed programs: Can you make electronic text copies, Braille copies and large print copies available? Is the text large enough to be easily legible?
- Does your publicity contain information about accessibility (e.g. wheelchair access, ASL interpretation, ways to get more information about access)?
- Is the furniture and equipment arranged to provide open routes to each room or part of the event?
- Are you prepared to insist that the venue admit service dogs? (They have to legally, but not every venue knows this.)
- Will you ask attendees to refrain from wearing cologne, perfume or scented products?
The information above doesn’t contain all of the information you need to create an ADA-compliant event or venue. However, if you can answer “yes” to all of the questions, you’ll have a pretty accessible event.
For more information about the Americans With Disabilities Act and ADA standards, start with www.ada.gov. They have a good technical assistance section, including guides for small businesses and non-profits in clear language. They also have a checklist for readily achievable barrier removal here: http://www.ada.gov/checktxt.htm
United Spinal has a decent, basic primer on disability etiquette here: http://www.unitedspinal.org/pdf/DisabilityEtiquette.pdf
Here’s a good overview of being fragrance free: https://eastbaymeditation.org/resources/fragrance-free-at-ebmc
© 2017 Tara Ayres
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