Today, Abilities Expo hits seven major cities across the United States, gathering crowds of up to 6,000—40 percent of whom classify themselves as having some sort of physical, visual, hearing or cognitive disability. “I have to plan for the flood, and other people are planning for regular levels of the tide,” says David Korse, the expo’s president and CEO. Take note of three tips from Korse to help you better accommodate individuals with disabilities at your conference.
1. Ground level is the best level. “Anytime there are stairs, elevators or escalators involved, it makes our lives more complicated,” says Korse. For an event at Los Angeles Convention Center, he dressed a freight lift in lavish drapes to make up for the single elevator from the ground level to the exhibition floor.
2. Ensure staff receives proper training. People who don’t regularly work with individuals with disabilities often find themselves unsure of how to act. To remedy this, Korse and his team put together a training brochure and make themselves available to answer questions from the venue’s team. “We help train their staff to make sure they’re a little more sensitive without being oversensitive or condescending.”
3. Don’t tour a facility alone. There are some things a checklist won’t be able to tell you. Korse recommends asking an individual in a wheelchair to join a site visit. That person will be able to look out for things able-bodied people might not think about, such as the incline of a parking lot, for example.
Questions to Include in Your Venue Checklist
1. How close to the convention center can buses drop off?
2. How close is parking to the venue? Is it on the same level as the show floor?
3. Is there an accessible shuttle that can run between the hotel and venue?
4. If an accessible shuttle isn’t available, how easy is it to find accessible taxis or public transportation?
5. How many ADA-compliant rooms does the hotel have, and what does each room feature? (Note: Korse says all ADA rooms are not created equal. Some may cater to a person with a hearing disability, while others are wheelchair-accessible.)
6. Is the front desk of the hotel at chest level, or does it have a side counter that people in wheelchairs can access?
7. Are doorways wide enough for wheelchairs to get through?