Inclusive Events: Fostering Diversity and Accessibility in the Event Industry

Business people at business conference

Inclusive Events: Fostering Diversity and Accessibility in the Event Industry

There’s been a lot of talk about diversity, equity, and inclusive events in the industry lately, and for good reason. The right initiatives can make meetings and events better and safer places to be. Sadly, many events are still lagging in terms of diversity. The lack of representation and inclusion of diverse communities is depriving events of valuable insights, perspectives, and experiences. Events professionals need to make sure all the voices are heard, and everyone feels welcome regardless of their identity and status.

When you think about diversity and inclusion, don’t limit yourself to a single characteristic such as race or ethnicity. Consider the full breadth of diversity including gender, race, ethnicity, language, class, sexual orientation, ability, religion, etc.

Crucially, ensuring diversity and inclusion in events is not confined to expressing anti-discrimination statements but involves putting specific policies in place.

Consider how to bring diversity policies into every single step of the event planning. It’s not only about how you showcase diversity externally but about power in the decision-making process internally.

The following strategies will make your conferences, seminars, expos, and meetings more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Inclusive conference meeting.

Inclusive conference meeting.

1. Use pre-conference planning to discuss event goals and objectives.


Making your event more accessible and inclusive starts with pre-conference planning. This is the perfect time to discuss how your team will become advocates for every attendee, speaker, exhibitor, and VIP at your meeting.

While planning DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) events do require thought and strategy, having these conversations will challenge your team to rethink the ways it typically hosts events. Discuss the following:

  • Does the event venue provide elevator or ramp access?
  • Are there accessible transportation routes to and from the venue?
  • Are there accessible parking spaces available at the venue?
  • Does the venue have enough space to accommodate people with mobility aids?
  • Is the location and destination of my event LGBTQ-friendly?
  • Is there a need for diversity training on my team or among our vendors?

In terms of accessibility, it’s impossible to over-communicate your intentions with attendees. Use your pre-conference communications to tell people what to expect. For instance: Will there be flash photography, strobes, or flashing images that may cause seizures? Will fog machines or smells be used that might impact someone with chemical sensitivities? Will interpreting services be provided during panels and sessions? Will off-site social activities be fully accessible?


2. Foster inclusive event design through ADA accessibility.

Remember, room set-up is an important element of hosting an ADA-accessible event. While it can be tempting to cram as many tables and chairs as possible in a room, this conference room configuration can be a challenge, especially for attendees with limited mobility. When designing your event space, reserve seating at the front of the room for people who lip-read, are hard of hearing, and who use electronic hearing aids. People who use sign language interpreters will also need space to sit at the front of the room.

As always, keep aisles clear of obstructions, not just for ADA accessibility but also for emergency action planning purposes. When planning your agenda, provide ample time for attendees with disabilities to move between sessions, use the restroom, and get refreshments.


3. Discuss DE&I goals with event vendors and suppliers.

Event professionals are pros at carefully selecting dates for their events, conducting site visits, and discussing their goals with vendors and suppliers. Don’t forget that the organizations you work with should be your partners in planning. Your venue, caterers, suppliers, and vendors should be more than willing to discuss how they’ll help you reach your DE&I goals. When exploring vendors and deciding who to work with, consider the following:

  • Does the site visit reveal adequate accessibility to the destination and the venue?
  • Is your caterer willing to work with diet restrictions and faith-based dietary needs?
  • Is your venue willing to take steps to ensure every attendee has equal access to the event?
  • How can your event badge supplier work with you to create credentials that reflect inclusivity?

Diversity initiatives and accessibility requirements should be top considerations when planning events. Make sure the organizations you work with are eager to join in your quest to make events as inclusive as possible.


Registration table at a business conference.

Registration table at a business conference.

4. Creating a registration process that accommodates individuals with disabilities.

Creating an inclusive registration process that accommodates people living with disabilities is yet another crucial best practice in inclusive event planning. It involves offering alternative registration methods, like providing options for assisted registration, ensuring accessible online forms, and offering support for individuals who might require assistance, or have specific accessibility needs. By prioritizing inclusivity in the registration process, event planners facilitate equal access and participation, making the event more welcoming and accessible for all attendees.

5. Celebrate diversity through your event agenda, activities, and meals.

No attendee wants to feel like an outsider or burden at a conference. Event professionals must carefully plan their events to make sure all attendees feel a part of the overall experience. The following strategies will help you celebrate diversity throughout your agenda:

  • Avoid event dates that coincide with religious holidays in different faiths.
  • Provide multi-faith prayer rooms for use during the conference.
  • Ensure your venue has access to lactation rooms for nursing mothers.
  • Accommodate requests for food-related restrictions, religious norms, and health considerations.
  • Provide clear labeling of food options, listing any ingredients that may cause allergic reactions.
  • Plan a menu that incorporates and celebrates food staples from various cultures.
  • Provide a “mocktail” menu and alcohol-free drink options at the conference happy hour.
  • Plan activities and sessions that celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion topics.

When distributing your agenda to attendees, don’t forget to prepare event materials in different languages to make sure everyone has equal access to information. Your mobile app should also be accessibility friendly.


6. Promote inclusive language at your event.

Sometimes event inclusivity can be in the finer details, such as the language used by event speakers. If mistakes are made in terms of event inclusivity these are usually small and made unintentionally, but can make the atmosphere of your event excluding or unwelcoming to certain attendees.

One example where it is important to use inclusive language is in matters of gender. Try and avoid introducing your attendees as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ or splitting groups up into men and women as a form of attendee participation, as this can feel exclusionary to gender non-conforming people.

It is also your social responsibility when hosting an event to be mindful of any cultural sensitivity that your language might invoke and be careful to opt for inclusive cultural depictions.


7. Offer pronoun ribbons for attendees’ event badges.

Pronouns are used to refer to someone in place of their name or the third person. For example, pronouns include he/him, she/hers, and they/them, though it is up to an individual to decide which pronouns work best.

It is important to avoid making assumptions about a person’s identity or pronouns based on their appearance or name. Using a person’s correct pronouns is a sure way to create a more inclusive environment, no matter what a person’s identity is.


8. Include a diverse range of speakers.

For your event to feel inclusive it is a good idea to ensure that the speakers at your event represent the diverse group of attendees that you wish to attract to your event. If you are hosting an event that sees multiple speakers present, then you should select a group of guest speakers that represent a variety of nationalities, religions, socio-economic statuses, gender, sexuality, etc. This will not only promote equal access to events but also help to ensure that your event speeches are not biased toward a particular experience.

Sign language interpreter.

Sign language interpreter.

9. Providing audio-visual accommodations.

Providing audio-visual accommodations is yet another critical best practice in event planning, which involves offering services like closed captioning, sign language interpretation, and audio descriptions to ensure accessibility for those with hearing or visual impairments. Through the implementation of these accommodations, event planners promote inclusivity and enable all attendees to fully engage with the content and presentations. This results in more inclusive environments where everyone gets to participate and enjoy the event on an equal basis.


10. Host a post-event strategy discussion and survey.

Your event is over. Now’s the time to initiate one of the most critical components of the event management cycle: your post-event strategy. Unfortunately, this is an area where many planners struggle.

When it comes to championing diversity, data collection, and attendee feedback are a must. Once your event has concluded, conduct the following:

  • A post-event meeting where feedback is reviewed by your team.
  • A post-event discussion with vendors where feedback is reviewed.
  • A game plan on how to incorporate feedback at future events.

Measure your progress, set targets, and hold yourself accountable. Make sure to give attendees a variety of ways to give feedback, whether it is via email, mobile app, or an online form. Your post-event survey should ask specific questions on how you can make the event experience more welcoming in the future.



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