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Accessibility Issues in Event Planning

Accessibility Issues in Event Planning

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner, accessibility is a right to participate to an event. So it is not an add-on when planning an event. Therefore my premise is that any one of my speakers, vendors, sponsors or delegates may have an accessibility challenge. To that end, I ensure that my planning process includes representative stakeholders who could shed light on special needs. The final result is that the venue and the proceedings will be accessible in all manners.

There must be a way for my delegates to access the meeting rooms and stage (speakers) should they be in a wheelchair So there have to be elevators in the venue, wheelchair friendly washroom facilities and a ramp to access the stage.

To accommodate any delegates with hearing impairments, I hire interpreters. They are expensive and they work in a team of 2 so this cost has to be factored into the budget. The stakeholders involved are the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf; they help me with coordinating interpreters to my events.

The hoarding full day workshops that I have planned for Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre over the past 6 years would serve as an example of an event where I needed to take into consideration the needs of the deaf community.

I have never had delegates that are blind, so I have not had to factor that into my planning.

7 Easy Steps to Ensure the Optimal Catering Experience

  1. During your initial meeting with the catering company, book a taste testing session. If you don’t like the food, go elsewhere!
  2. Ensure that there are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meal choices and design your registration form to reflect those choices.
  3. Identify all costs in order to develop a realistic food and beverage budget. Keep in mind that usually the per-person cost does not include taxes, service or gratuities.
  4. Look over the catering contract very carefully. Some venues require a minimum order regardless of how many delegates register. If this seems risky, ask the catering manager to remove the clause. If they do not agree, go elsewhere.
  5. Most catering contracts require a 48 hour notice for final confirmation numbers. Subtract 10% from your final count, as generally there is a 10% no show rate. However this may vary by industry. If this is the first time you arrange an event of this type and you are unsure of the no-show rate, subtract 5%. On event day, if more people show up than you booked for, simply advise the catering manager; the kitchen can always prepare more meals. The advantage to this strategy is that it saves the client money and equally important, it contributes to less food waste.
  6. Most catering contracts require a 48 hour notice for final confirmation numbers. Subtract 10% from your final count, as generally there is a 10% no show rate. However this may vary by industry. If this is the first time you arrange an event of this type and you are unsure of the no-show rate, subtract 5%. On event day, if more people show up than you booked for, simply advise the catering manager; the kitchen can always prepare more meals. The advantage to this strategy is that it saves the client money and equally important, it contributes to less food waste.
  7. Obtain feedback from the delegates on the quality and quantity of the food offered; this will provide useful information to assess the caterering company which will affect your decision to use them again.

DOs and DON’Ts of Event Planning

Here are my Event Planning tips for planning a perfect session, whether it’s a complex educational event with concurrent sessions or a simple affair.

  • In the preplanning phase make sure that the date your client has selected does not conflict with other industry events, otherwise your attendance rates may suffer.
  • Certain days of the week are better than others. Generally, Friday events are less popular. Also hotels and other venues give better rates during the week.
  • Meet with your client to discuss the event goals. Is this a bilingual event? Is it educational and if so, will it provide educational credits to the health professionals in attendance? If so, is there a need to contact a university to confer credits – (e.g. CME). If not, is a certificate of attendance needed?
  • Determine with the client whether the event is reliant on sponsorships or will the registration fee cover all expenses.
  • Will it be a half day session, a full day, or multiple days? Will there be concurrent sessions?
  • Be aware of the client’s attendance expectations for the overall event and for each breakout session.
  • Formulate a budget that takes into account all costs and projects what the registration fee will be. Get sign-off from the client.
  • Work with your venue planner to optimize seating arrangements, AV set-up, and catering. If you opt for external catering, make sure that the venue is in agreement and there are no penalties levied.
  • Scrutinize all contracts and ask questions if you are not sure of any clauses. Obtain sign-off from the client before returning any contract (AV, catering, simultaneous translation, interpreter services for hearing impaired delegates)
  • If the budget allows, book an AV technician for the entire day, especially if there are concurrent sessions, simultaneous translation or interpreter services. If anything goes wrong from a light bulb malfunction to a computer breakdown, the AV technician will quickly fix it and the event will run smoothly.
  • For all flyers, including SAVE THE DATE, get sign-off from the client and/or the communications department of the client’s company/organization. Make sure all logos used are current.
  • Obtain all speaker bios well in advance. Ask for speaker presentations one week prior to the event.
  • If the event involves out of town speakers, make sure you book their arrangements well in advance in order to take advantage of discounted airfare and hotel rates. If your speaker is on first thing in the morning, arrange to have them spend the previous night in town. There is nothing more panic inducing than a no-show from your keynote speaker!
  • If speakers are not being paid, make sure that they receive a modest honorarium or at the very least a thank you card by the organizing committee.
  • On the big day, make sure you arrive at least one hour early to the venue. Have all emergency contact numbers for catering, AV and speakers.
  • Check that the seating arrangements you submitted have been followed. If not, call your venue contact and have them make the necessary changes.
  • Check that all the AV equipment (screen, mics, computer) are working. Give the USB key to the AV technician so that all the presentations can be preloaded.
  • Ensure you have lots of help with registration, especially if there is a projected attendance of 100 or more delegates.
  • Reserve tables at the front of the room for committee members and speakers.
  • Verify the room temperature throughout the day; there is nothing worse than delegates being too hot as it puts them to sleep! If the temperature is not optimal, make sure you liaise with the venue contact immediately, as large rooms may take up to 20 minutes for the temperature to change.
  • Make sure that the catering is setting up all meals and snacks according to schedule.
  • Design an evaluation form that is comprehensive (e.g. 5 point Likert scale) but is easy to analyse.
  • Submit the evaluation report no later that one week post event.
  • Hold a debrief with the client post event to discuss the event in detail and any challenges encountered.
  • Book your next event with the client!

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