How to Make Your Events More Accessible for People With Disabilities

With the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaching, now is the time to make sure your gatherings go beyond compliance and offer a truly welcoming experience for all. 

Photo Credit: Minerva Studio for Adobe Stock

The Americans with Disabilities Act will celebrate its 32nd anniversary on July 26. While July 26th marks the anniversary of when the ADA was signed into law, it is important that event professionals make accessibility options a priority all year long. The following guide includes details on the Americans with Disabilities Act, its requirements for venues/events and additional ways to make your gathering more welcoming to those with disabilities.

What Is the Americans With Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, schooling, transportation and more. It was signed into law on July 26, 1990.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 percent of all American adults are currently living with some form of disability, most commonly mobility difficulties. The ADA includes certain requirements for venues and events in order to ensure accessibility and equal opportunities. All public gatherings must comply with these regulations.

What Do ADA Regulations Entail for Your Event or Venue?

The ADA has special rules for public accommodations and commercial facilities under Title III of the law. This part of the ADA requires public venues, such as concert and entertainment halls, stadiums, convention centers and hotels, to make "reasonable modifications" to their business operations when serving people with disabilities. It also states that businesses must take the necessary steps to communicate effectively with customers who have vision, hearing and speech disabilities.

In 2010, revised regulations were issued on the ADA's Standards for Accessible Design. This includes rules for accessible seating, wheelchair mobility and more at gatherings and venues. Among the requirements that event organizers must comply with are: 

  • Proper parking;
  • Accessible toilets;
  • Signage for the visually impaired;
  • Accessible routes;
  • Public areas accommodating disabilities;
  • Helpful technology, such as closed captions; and
  • Seating for a variety of disabilities. 

Generally, most venues must have about 1 percent of their available seats reserved for individuals with disabilities. To "provide full and equal enjoyment," venues must offer more than just accessible building layouts, ramps and elevators. Other regulations required for venues by the ADA include:

  • Accessible seats for people with wheelchairs and mobile disabilities, including features such as an accessible approach, location at grade, clear floor space and larger dimensions;
  • Venues cannot charge higher prices for accessible seats than for non-accessible seats in the same seating section;
  • People purchasing a ticket for an accessible seat may purchase up to three additional seats for their companions in the same row (these seats must be contiguous with the accessible seat); and
  • Venues cannot require proof of disability as a condition for purchasing tickets for accessible seats.

How to Streamline ADA Compliance

If your event or venue is in the U.S., then it must comply with the regulations set by the ADA. Public accommodations — theaters, arenas, hotels, and convention centers among them — are required to meet ADA standards. All public events are also legally obligated to meet ADA requirements. Additionally, there are special regulations the ADA has established for event ticketing as well.

While offering an accessible experience to attendees may seem overwhelming at first, there are tools that can help. The newly developed Venue Mapping Tool allows event organizers to easily add ADA seating (including the required associated companion seats), categorize ADA seats by section and price, and check seat availability based on a user's profile and self-attestation regarding needs and disabilities. The app can also help attendees navigate the venue by pinpointing accessible bathrooms and facilities.

Accessibility Goes Beyond Following ADA Requirements

All event elements should be planned with accessibility in mind. It's important to include accessibility concerns from the onset of the planning process, rather than as a last-minute compliance check.

Factors to consider include, but are not limited to, the ticketing process, ease of entry and exit, food and beverage, bathrooms, and — of course — the event itself. Be sure to also consider aspects that might not seem obvious, such as the routes to and from the venue (Google has even added wheelchair-accessible routes to Maps) and the parking options available. 

Equally important to having accessible options at your event is communicating this information properly to attendees beforehand. This messaging can be included in pre-event emails, website copy, on-site signage or on social media. Additionally, make sure to disclose in your communications what aspects of the event might be difficult for some people to enjoy, such as strobe lights, flash photography and fog machines. 

Event organizers should also set aside time to educate their staff members, as well as venue and supplier partners on ADA requirements and their commitment to inclusion. It's important to continually look for new opportunities to make meetings more accessible and engaging for people with disabilities. Some questions to consider include:

  • Is there room in the event budget for assistive listening device or on-site interpretive services?
  • Can the signage be improved?
  • Does the venue have proper accommodations and services for service animals?

Planners should also consult attendees and ask for their feedback on how to improve the event experience for those with disabilities. By making the meeting as accessible as possible, with careful consideration of a variety of conditions, planners have the opportunity to create an inclusive event environment, expand their audience and bring new perspectives to the gathering.

Meghan Neville is a content marketing coordinator at Softjourn, a software development and consulting company that specializes in event ticketing and other services.