Accessible spaces, events, meetings, and ongoing activities
The Checklist was prepared by
Gisela Janis, Equal Opportunities Advocacy Secretary 2012-2013 at the Stockholm University Student Union, The Swedish National Union of Students’ project 10 tips för tillgänglighet (in Swedish) in cooperation with Adrian Repka, Jämfota. English translation by Micah Grzywnowicz.
Table of contents
- Checklist for social activities
- Work procedures
- Food and drinks
- Security and privacy
- Text and information
- Meeting formats
- Presentation techniques
- Opening the door
- Checklist for physical spaces
- Physical access
- Meeting rooms and workspaces
- Doors and entrances
- Outdoors spaces
The aim of the Checklist for Accessibility is to make the Student Union widen its work on accessibility within the whole organization. The concept of “accessibility”, used in this document, is given a broad meaning. It intends to give an overview of the most important issues to be kept in mind to give everyone opportunity to participate. The society constantly changes, so does the Student Union, therefore the Checklist should be treated as a “living document” and be regularly reviewed.
The Checklist is divided into two main sections: “social activities” and “physical spaces”, accompanied with numerous sub-sections to easily guide the organizer to the relevant part. Each section starts with an example of an inaccessible arrangement in order to show how relevant this work is. There is terminology section on pages 13-17. Each section begins with the words “Remember that”. It is important to keep in mind because this is guidelines for accessible activities and not requirements. What is important is not only to know what works but also what does not work. Sometimes it will be easy to “tick off” the elements on the checklist without any remarks on greater “accessibility deficiencies”, while other times it will not be possible at all. Informing participants that something is not accessible is also one way of working with accessibility.
Accessibility is something that needs to be considered an essential part of democratic system. If people have only a theoretical and not actual possibility to participate in the activities of the student union then not everyone has the basic opportunity to participate in something that should be fundamentally democratic. It could be also useful to think of accessibility as a matter of fulfilling the basic preconditions for participation. In this checklist we have balanced those basic requirements with the elements that can be worked on simultaneously in order to achieve inclusion, safety, and comfort for more.
It is possible to learn what constitutes accessibility. This is information that can be gathered from checklists like this one. For a seeing organizer it is possible to learn concepts such as sound description, Braille, and black writing. Differences between visual impairment, impaired vision, low vision, and being blind are possible to be learnt. It is possible to learn that what is more important than the mechanical skills is the priority that the activities are accessible and convenient for all participants regardless of vision impairment. It is important that the seeing organizers try to identify assumptions about vision existing in their work in advance, especially in case it has not been seen as a priority before. It is important that the seeing organizers take responsibility even if it is hard and even when inaccessibility is “not their fault”. What can save them in cases of insufficient knowledge is humility, readiness to listen to the parties directly concerned and, for example, adapting proper language regardless of what one has previously learnt.
The basic thing to apply the checklist easily is to first identify the needs of the group in question. Posting a question regarding “needs” in the application form or invitation can easily do this. It provides information on specific requirements and assistance needs necessary for full participation. Be prepared to accommodate for any expressed needs. Different parts of the checklist can be applied depending on the participants’ responses.
The more the checklist is used and the more boxes are “ticked”, the better Student Union will be at applying an accessible approach and will be able to provide opportunity for everyone to participate on equal basis.
An invitation to a meeting
One example of accessibility when it comes to organizing activities is simply stating that everyone is welcome because we say so. It is also crucial to reflect on how inaccessibility is created and what effects it has.
When we, for instance, organize a meeting, we need to plan according to different needs that people, who we are planning to invite, have.
The most common way to cover all the needs is to base our approach on what we think is common (for instance, that people pray at certain fixed times, that everyone can be without access to the toilet for an hour, and that no one needs to pick up their children from kindergarten at a certain time). Being unaware, usually our starting point is to ask if there is anyone with any “special needs”, consequently exposing them to the rest of the group / participants. It is usually the same persons who are exposed and have to point out their needs in order to have them met. This results in situations where the, supposedly neutral, needs are hardy seen as needs.
What happens is that the person who has been exposed is identified as “them” in opposition to “us”. Any solution designed to cater for what is considered “special needs” becomes “special solutions”. They seem to be based on flexibility but they almost never are comfortable. The persons with “special needs” are often overlooked until they see that their needs do not hinder the rest of the group. There are many examples of situations when those with needs outside of the norm have to leave meetings because the run over the time scheduled for prayer, they need to use the toilet or pick up children from school. Such singling out deprives those persons of opportunity to feel a part of a “we”.
It has consequences on a society level. Sense of belonging and ability to participate in all aspects of community life without obstacles are basic public health factors. As long as there is widespread structural exclusion, mainstream groups will continue to have more opportunities to participate in labor market, education, non-governmental organizations, culture, and sport.
A more accessible way to organize meetings would be to ensure that the scope of potential needs is taken into account before the meeting starts and do not always choose to go with the norm. This requires the organizers to understand why it is important not to follow the norm.
The part of checklist below provides alternative suggestions of how one can invite people and conduct meetings, and events. Much of it is about becoming aware of the unspoken rules and assumptions that our system is based on, making some participants feel more comfortable than others. One can choose other ways to organize activities, in order to include other participants and change the discourse.
Checklist for social activities
- that the group in charge of organizing the event has the joint responsibility for accessibility and continuously make others aware of the needs, which have to be accommodated for
- that lecturers and workshop leaders should have varying age, looks and background
- to choose one person to be in charge for the implementation of the checklist and that the whole group make an assessment of the accessibility afterwards. Information about it can be obtained from evaluation conducted with participants
- lecturers, experts, meeting presidium and workshop leaders should be composed of people with diverse background, age, and experience
- pictures of people with diverse age, (dis)ability, gender, and ethnicity should be used for marketing, if any graphic material is used for PR
- if the person directly concerned with an issue is present, they should be involved in all phases – identifying the problem, finding a solution, implementation and evaluation. If any work is done to make the Student Union accessible for students with psycho-social disabilities, the students in questions as well as competent organizations should be involved in the process.
- to start a meeting and/or event with a round of introductions and pronouns (which pronouns people present would like to be addressed with, for instance she/he/zie/they)
- to ask what needs participants have towards each other, for instance “to be listened to”. You can also name the things that came up in application forms prior to the meeting. In this way, you can come up with solutions together, as a group.
- that apart from lectures, there are more participatory methods that should be used, such as discussions, workshops and seminars
- to work in smaller groups with facilitators during larger and longer events
- to use methods such as rounds, speakers’ lists, show of hands (if possible) so that everyone present feels included and welcome to participate
- to have games, exercises and activities that suit everyone regardless of their abilities. Think of at least two ways in which the same exercise can be done depending on participants’ needs. Sometimes, participants get to choose for themselves which method to use. Sometimes, there is a need to use the same method for all. Avoid voting on a selection of the method, as sometimes the majority comfort cannot be prioritized over the ability of everyone to participate
- travel to and from the event should be booked through the organization so that participants are not forced to advance the travel costs
- participation fees and other potential costs (such as paying for dinner) can impede participation
- call for participants and/or invitation should be sent out well in advance as not everyone has the same flexibility and freedom of arranging their time
- if there is a program, arrange it in a way that there is space for breaks every 45 minutes or that participants have the possibility to influence the time for breaks
- events should be planned with regard to holidays, celebrations or other festivals – use diversity calendar available at ww.sensus.se/almanackan
Food and drinks
- to take into account ethical, religious, environmental perspectives and/or allergies in the group while planning the food
- to ask participants about their food-related needs or habits well in advance
- that everyone should be able to eat together and eat the same food. Avoid making special arrangements as long as possible. Avoid also using words such as “special diets”
- to avoid buffets containing food, which cannot be eaten by all participants because food or cutlery can easily fall from one container to the other
- to always label the food and refreshments
- that the consumption of alcohol during the event should be communicated in advance. Serving or encouraging to drink alcohol may hinder participation for various reasons, for instance religion, health issues or past experiences with alcohol abuse
- that the dining room for people with disabilities should not be located further from the rooms and/or working venue than for people who can for example use stairs
- to use regular tables for serving food (no bar tables)
- to write in the call for participants and/or invitation that participants should avoid bringing or using common allergens, such as nuts, citrus or strong perfumes
- to make sure that the venue and outdoor spaces used are free from plants, which are common allergens
- that smoking should be only allowed in specially designated areas, at least 50m from the entrance
- that toilets as well as the kitchen have unscented soap and sanitizer
- that the venue and work spaces are cleaned and washed regularly
- not to bring any fur animals unless otherwise specified (except guide dogs)
Security and privacy
- inform participants about emergency exits and assembly points in case of accidents, such as fire
- check accessibility of the proposed emergency exits
- read through ”crisis plan for activities” document for the Student Union at Stockholm University
- keep contact and personal information of participants confidential
- hide participants’ email address when emailing the whole group (use BCC format instead of answering to all)
- ask participants to provide you with a name and contact information to a person who could be contacted in case of emergency
- to ask in advance if there is a need for sign language interpretation or audio description, induction loop or other means so that you know that you can provide them
- that the invitation to the meeting or activity should provide an overview of how accessible the venue is. It should also indicate that the participants’ needs are taken into account when choosing the venue
Text and information
- write clearly and concretely to easily get your message across
- inform participants that all documents are available in several formats and are made available in digital text (e.g., Google Drive and .doc can be read by speech synthesizer instead of .pdf) and large print (14 points or more) at the same time as all other information
- use “bold” instead of “italics” because italics may be difficult to read
- organize your text with headings and subheadings
- write minutes and other notes using the same template. Points/issues which were agreed on, discussed or were presented should be clearly visible and written in a simple language
- describe images used in conjunction with text-based information
- use regular tables when displaying information materials (no bar/high tables)
- that language is a prerequisite for inclusion and participation. To be aware of one’s own language and to choose words carefully shows that we value and acknowledge participants who otherwise would be excluded
- to replace the word “man” with “one” to avoid gendered language
- to avoid using only gender specific pronouns such as she/he. Instead you can use zie/she/he or just ‘they’, which is not gender specific
- that if there is a specific person in question, such as a lecturer or a speaker, it would be advisable to ask about their pronoun preference in advance
- to explain any abbreviation used throughout the activity and not to assume that they are self-evident. In this case new participants have a chance to keep up with the input without being put on the spot
- to develop language that functions well and is not discriminatory or offensive to anyone regardless of who is in the group
- to send out an invitation in multiple languages (if possible) and ask participants to indicate which languages they are able to work in, including Swedish sign language and international sign
- to try to translate texts, presentations and notes into English (and other languages, if possible), if Swedish is the language used at the meeting or lecture
- to use a neutral and inclusive language such as “let’s take a break” instead of “let’s stretch our legs”
- to identify and name the norm. To contrast the “toilet” with “disabled toilet” makes the “toilet” seem to be somehow neutral, while in fact it hides the fact that the “toilet” users are able-bodied
- to have clear and explicit rules about how the meeting is run and that there is space for asking questions during the meeting
- to use lists of speakers (with big groups) or rounds (in smaller groups) to facilitate everyone’s participation
- to start a new year with training addressing meeting techniques and the concepts that the group intends to use are taken up, discussed and explained
- to inform the lecturer that it is important to keep time, use microphone, describe images, read out text, which is displayed visually (for instance, for participants with psycho-social disability or dyslexia). It is also important to ask the lecturer to stand facing participants so that they can do lip reading, if necessary
- to have presentations printed out in at least two copies (for instance, for participants with visual impairment or dyslexia) and to send out the presentation to participants in advance, if possible
- to have contrasts in digital / paper presentations and avoid many different colors
- to have only very limited amount of text on each slide. It should be not more than five “bullet” points. It is recommended that each point does not have more than five words in it
- to use images in order to facilitate understanding of the messages. It also makes it easier to keep up and follow the presentation (for instance, for participants with reading or writing difficulties)
- to describe images and models (sight interpretation)
- to use only black or dark blue whiteboard markers, because red and green are more difficult to see
- to make sure that if you show a movie, it is subtitled and someone can provide sight interpretation, if needed
One example of accessibility in physical spaces and why accessibility work needs to address all places that are part of the work – from walkways, to outdoor spaces, to elevators and work rooms.
The most valuable accessibility work is done before participants come to the working space. However, the most common way to work with accessibility is to act after the damage has been already done, for instance when a participant got jammed and reported it to the organizers. Other situations include, for instance the lack of a door opener at the entrance with the ramp, allergic reaction due to a flower bouquet at the entrance, or being harassed by other participants because of being in the “wrong” toilet.
The most common way to work with accessibility is reactive and favoring no one. On the contrary, it can be quite unpleasant for both the victim and the organizers who are expected to address the situation and feel a great need to apologize and explain themselves. In such situations, it is likely that the organizers exacerbate the whole issue with irrelevant excuses and attempts to work around the problem.
The situation with a lacking door opener can be, for instance, ‘solved’ by the organizer saying “but it is just to call when you get here and I or someone else can come down and help you”. A door opener is not just a button but also a tool to equalize the conditions for participants and provide opportunities of greater autonomy for more persons. It will be disabling for the participant who needs a door opener to always have another person to do things for them, things that others are able to do themselves and can take for granted. The solution proposed as a replacement for the door opener may seem harmless but it can bear unforeseen consequences. The solution is a “special solution”. It removes possibility of a more equal relationship between the parties involved, as one is made to depend on the other. The solution, which was initially emergency measures, was neutralized with time, which means that no structural measures were implemented, such as the installation of the door opener.
The solution does not account for the participant’s entire stay at the event, which will lead to further comments on doorsteps that are too high to be accessible, toilets that are too narrow and without railings. It all will expose the person to discomfort and feelings of being a problem due to their body.
Inaccessibility runs a risk of causing harm and humiliation where a person can fall into the small toilet stall that lacks handrails. It also can be dangerous, for instance in case of fire when the only emergency escape route to the backyard is a fire ladder.
With this part of the checklist we would like to give organizers one more chance to make their activities more accessible, comfortable and safe for all participants.
Checklist for physical spaces
- to offer to participants to be met up at their arrival spot (for instance, a bus stop or airport)
- that the drop-off place for bus/car/taxi/etc should be within 25 meters from the entrance
- to have information desk equipped with hearing loop
- that the height of the information desk must be accessible for wheelchair users
- that unprotected glass surfaces that can be mistakenly taken for entrances are properly marked, so wheelchair users and others can see them
- to use tape to mark both light and dark spaces
- that existing barriers (which cannot be removed or avoided) are clearly marked both visually and in a way to allow identification with a cane
- that rugs on the floor should not be laying loose
- that information signs should be clear, for instance it should be clearly indicated that there is induction loop available or where different working spaces within the venue are located
Meeting rooms and workspaces
- furniture should be arranged in a way that participants sit facing each other
- the stage or podium should be easily reached by all participants, including those using wheelchairs or have other physical disability
- in rooms with fixed seats, wheelchair users and participants with other physical disabilities are seated in a distances from the stage which allows for their full participation in a discussion or session
- workspaces should be equipped with devices, such as induction loop, which makes it possible for participants with hearing impairment to participate in all workspaces used by a group
- the lighting in a room is good so that one can see well sign interpretation and those who speak
- equipment used or needed by lecturers or participants can be accessed by persons with disabilities
- at least some seats should be quite high (about 50cm) and have supportive backrest and armrests. Also some chairs where one sits for a long time should be soft and could be fitted with pads
- ventilation in rooms should be adapted to the number of participants
- sound and noise levels are controlled to prevent echo (affecting tinnitus), sound tiles in the ceiling and fabric on the walls absorb sounds. Another solution is to use workrooms for parts of activities where many people can speak simultaneously
Doors and entrances
- all participants, including those using wheelchairs or having other physical disability, should be able to open the doors. They must be sufficiently broad for an electric wheelchair to pass (the free passage dimension when the door is fully open is at least 0.80m)
- doorways are free from thresholds (or the threshold is max 25mm high and beveled)
- heavy entrance doors should have a door opener situated at 90-110cm maximum. Automatic doors with sensor should open in a way that a person using them does not get hit
- handles and locks are easy to use and are maximum 1m above the ground
- the lowest step on the stairs should be contrast marked
- there are handrails on both sides of the stairs. The handrails should be contrast marked, easy to grab and without any impeding attachments
- any stairs to the room are complemented with accessible lifts or ramps
- it has to be sufficiently large (1.1 x 1.4 m) to accommodate a user of a wheelchair or Permobil as well as an assistant
- the space outside the elevator is large enough for a wheelchair user to move freely around without getting too close to the edge of the downward stairs
- the best door are automatic sliding door with a width of 0.90m
- the elevator should stop at the same level as the floor
- the elevator panel control should have a call button and emergency alarm button located within reach of a wheelchair user (i.e. located 0.80 – 1 m above the floor)
- emergency alarm should be seen and heard in the elevator
- soil surface is firm, smooth, without inclination or risk of slipping as well as is well lit
- the width of the walkway is sufficient for a wheelchair user to reach the entrance and turn around (at least 1.5m)
- the walkway is safe and easy to follow for persons with vision impairment or that there is a sufficient marking provided along the walkway, which can be created, for instance using visible skid protective tape
- the place should be accessible without passing any steps
- it should be easy to turn and maneuver up to a table for a wheelchair user (a circle with a diameter of 1.50m)
- persons with disabilities have to be able to use available seats
- the surface the seats are located on should be firm, flat and smooth
- toilets have to be accessible to wheelchair users, persons using Permobil, walkers or have other physical disabilities. The toilet must be sufficiently large, there have to be handrails on both sides and there has to be free space under the sink for wheelchairs to fit there
- toilets should be gender neutral
- at least one toilet should have hooks for clothes, a shelf for medicine or other aid. It should also have soap and detergent available
- the distance to accessible toilets should be comparably the same to the distance of other toilets. If it is not, the breaks should be made longer so that all participants have equal chances to use the toilets
- the place where one sleeps is used for rest and has to be safe. If the accommodation does not feel safe or accessible it may compromise full participation of some persons
- separate beds are preferable to bunk beds because the upper level beds are less accessible
- the needs regarding accommodation should be registered during application process
- you should not assume that participants identify with the legal gender registered in their passports / ID documents, or that their name implies what gender they are. It should not be assumed that participants prefer to stay in gender segregated rooms
- you should not book too many persons in one room, unless they are consulted beforehand and you got a positive response from all persons involved
- there should be showers, which are individual and not gender specific
RFSL Ungdom – Swedish Youth Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Rights. ”Checklist for accessibility” (”Checklista för tillgänglighet”) (in Swedish)
Så funkar det – SFS (The Swedish National Union of Students) the initiative ”Så funkar det” works to ensure accessible student environment. ”Toolkit for accessible meetings” (”Verktygslåda för tillgängliga möten”) (in Swedish)
En stärkt röst – collaborative project which brings together eight youth organizations for young people with disabilities. ”Checklist for increased accessibility” (”Checklista för ökad tillgänglighet”) (in Swedish)
Stockholm Univeristy Student Union – ”Action Plan for Equal Opportunities” (”Handlingsplan för lika villkor 2012/2013”) (in Swedish)