Anne Zbitnew, a Toronto-based media professor, breaks down how to ensure your event communications—emails, signage and everything in between—make everyone feel welcome.


When it comes to communications around a business event, there are just so many moving parts: emails, websites, social media, name badges, presentation slides, on-site wayfinding and signage and more. And ensuring that all your messaging is inclusive, diverse and accessible is an important job. Here, Anne Zbitnew, Professor of Media Foundation, Journalism and Visual and Digital Art at Toronto’s Humber College, offers helpful strategies for inclusive event communication materials.

Use images that portray vibrant cultural diversity or people with accessibility issues actively engaged in everyday activities—especially when you're talking about a city as diverse as Toronto.

– Anne Zbitnew, Humber College Professor

As crowd of people network at the Destinations International Convention
Destinations International Convention in Toronto | Steam Whistle Brewery

1. Provide places where participants can self-identify their gender identity

One of the most important steps planners can take, Zbitnew says, is providing spots before and at your event where participants can self-identify. Tips from the City of Toronto’s Accommodation Policy include: making space on your name badges to include pronouns and review and edit speaker or registrant forms to accommodate gender identity and expression.

“I think self-identification is really key,” says Zbitnew. “If you are introducing a speaker or you're writing about someone who's going to be at your conference, I think it's key to really ask them: ‘What's your chosen pronoun? Is there language around how you identify that you would like me to use?’”

2. Use inclusive language resources

There are plenty of resources that will help ensure your event messaging is inclusive, diverse and accessible. They’ll teach you everything from how the word Black should be capitalized when referring to racial identity to avoiding commonly used phrases—like “let’s have a pow wow”—that are culturally inappropriate.

The 519, a Toronto-based non-profit that serves the city’s 2SLGBTQ+ communities, has a helpful glossary of terms, defining everything from neo-pronouns to tokenism. Dr. Gregory Younging, who was a Canadian editor and expert on First Nations copyright, wrote a book called Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples. The Government of Canada also has an in-depth inclusive writing guide.


3. Choose images that reflect the diversity and accessibility of Toronto

When it comes to inclusion, the images we use are just as important as the words we use. If communicating about accessibility or cultural diversity, for example, Zbitnew says it’s important to avoid stereotypical images. “It's not enough to just put someone in there using a wheelchair.” Images that portray vibrant cultural diversity or people with accessibility issues actively engaged in everyday activities are much preferable, Zbitnew says. “Especially when you're talking about the city of Toronto, which is so diverse, we really need to show that in the images we choose.”

4. Make sure images have descriptions, good colour contrast and readable fonts

Zbitnew says adding image descriptions to your photos—on social media posts, on your website, etc.—is another important part of inclusion. This is important for people who have blindness or low vision.

Zbitnew also recommends checking photos for good contrast between colours and readable fonts. “Otherwise, you're excluding a population of people who won't be able to consume your media.”

Want to learn more? Zbitnew’s open-access online course at Humber College called Making Accessible Media is designed to teach how to incorporate accessibility features into media content.

5. Consult people with lived experience

If you have questions around language choices in your communications, Zbitnew, who has worked extensively with disabled persons on terminology around accessibility, advises to consult folks with lived experience. This applies to not only the disabled community, but 2SLGBTQ+ groups, Indigenous people, among others.

Zbitnew notes that terminology is constantly evolving. “As a media maker, it can be really hard to stay on top of it all,” she says. She recommends continuing education and ongoing consultations with experts who have access to these communities. Local Toronto diversity, equity and inclusions specialists include Indigenous Geographic, All Things Equitable, Feminuity, Waaban Nang Collective, Quell Now, ONE DEI, Accessibrand and more.