Want to improve the accessibility aspect of your event? Four experts suggest ways to create a positive experience where everyone feels welcome.

 

Toronto Harbour with CN Tower in background with several sailboats and people walking by marina
Able Sail Toronto

“When it comes to accessibility, for the event planning space it's really about understanding a really good, positive customer or visitor experience.” 

– Maayan Ziv, Founder and CEO of AccessNow

1. Recognize the scope.

Disability affects one in five Canadians but we don’t often appreciate how many event attendees this potentially involves, says Maayan Ziv, founder and CEO of AccessNow. “When we start understanding the size of the market and understanding that often we are failing people, even unintentionally, that's when we can begin to prioritize accessibility,” Ziv says.

Maayan IMEX
Maayan Ziv at IMEX America

“A good option would be to have somebody on your team who's responsible for accessibility and inclusion so there is a person you can reach out to.”

– Gillian Lynne-Davies, Director of Marketing & Communications at Accessibrand

2. Build in accessibility at the start.

“When it comes to accessibility, for the event planning space it's really about understanding a really good, positive customer or visitor experience,” Ziv continues. “Similarly to how we would approach brand or language, accessibility really needs to be incorporated from end to end.”

Ziv notes several benefits to building accessibility into the planning process, including reducing costs. “You're also going to make sure that you don't have to remediate or remove anything and rebuild,” she says, or require additional services at the last minute.
 

"Have a good handle on who your participants are, you can really focus on meeting needs."

– Jolene MacDonald, Founder of Accessibrand

3. Appoint a key contact.

Gillian Lynne-Davies, director of marketing and communications at Accessibrand, a design and marketing services social enterprise that is involved in numerous Toronto-based events, suggests, “a really good option would be to have somebody on your team who's responsible for accessibility and inclusion so that there is a person you can reach out to, if you get to the event and you can't find your way or there's something you have an issue with.”

 “If one was to look at travel destinations, from an accessibility standpoint, Toronto is far superior than other cities."

– Karen-Ann Xavier, Able Sail Principal Administrator

4. Gather information on who is coming.

Jolene MacDonald, founder of Accessibrand, says that when you have a good handle on who your participants are, you can really focus on meeting needs. “Sometimes that means having a volunteer at the front door,” she says, but could also involve quiet rooms, attendants, a sign language interpreter, dietary accommodations or accessible transportation.
 

5. Choose a welcoming destination.

Able Sail Toronto is a local charity providing opportunities for adaptive sailing to persons with disabilities, and offers sailing team building experiences for small groups.

Karen-Ann Xavier, Able Sail’s principal administrator, travels annually with local participants to compete in the Mobility Cup, a Canadian regatta for sailors with neurological and physical disabilities. From that vantage, Xavier says, “If one was to look at travel destinations, I would say from an accessibility standpoint, Toronto is far superior than other cities.”

Exhibition Place Accessible Entrance. Image shows a ramp with a 'ramp access' signage on the side of the building
Accessible entrance at Exhibition Place

6. Accommodate based on needs with help from innovative partners.

When planning accommodations for your event, Ziv says, “Applying that lens of accessibility by engaging people with experience—that lived experience of disability—or experts who work in the field is the best way to do it.” Here are just a few local partners that are able to assist:

  • AccessNow offers free information about the accessibility of Toronto amenities including subway stops, hotels, restaurants and attractions and has a free accessibility map online.
  • Accessibrand is a social enterprise with team members who are skilled designers, writers, marketers, communicators and strategists and who have lived disability experience.
  • Stop Gap Foundation, supplies custom ramps and easily transportable ramps.
  • Toronto Sign Language Interpreter Service provides interpretation services for Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Ziv says organizers that put the work in can “start to get really wonderful results that really spark joy and delight” and often build loyalty among attendees and participants. In addition, she says, “It can be a real competitive advantage to set yourself out in the space because yes, there are some great leaders, but there are not enough of them. So really thinking it through and showing up to the community, the word gets out.”