ARRANGING ACCESSIBLE MEETINGS
The fundamental issues to consider when arranging a meeting that allows
for the attendance and participation of people with disabilities can be divided into two major
Physical access and access to the meeting contents and proceedings must be planned. This
article will discuss important issues and provide information about resources available when
planning for access in a meeting environment. Major areas are highlighted that need to be
considered that create opportunities for full participation by all attendees.
Selecting Hotel and Meeting Facilities
The first task facing the meeting planner is locating accessible meeting facilities and, if overnight travel is necessary, accessible hotel accommodations - at the same hotel ideally. This eliminates accessible transportation needs to and from meeting facilities. An Independent Living Center (ILC) or another disability organization in the vicinity of the desired meeting site may be able to suggest accessible hotels/ meeting facilities and provide assistance in obtaining other information that would be helpful in planning the meeting.
There are now comprehensive accessibility checklists available to assist in assessing a site's physical accessibility. Through the use of the checklists, the meeting planner is able to evaluate whether or not the wheelchair accessible parking is adequate, if text telephones are available, if the elevator buttons have raised letters and braille labels, and other important access issues impacted by building design.
These checklists can be sent to prospective hotels with a request that hotel staff complete them in order to be considered as a potential location for an accessible meeting. They can also be used while conducting a site visit. The "Checklist for Existing Facilities" and the "Readily Achievable Self-Evaluation Checklist" which includes criteria on guestroom accessibility can be obtained from the regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers. You may call 800-949-4ADA for the telephone number of the regional center in your area. The RESNA TA Project has found site visits valuable in assuring the accessibility of a facility.
To ensure adequate meeting space that is accessible to accommodate the number of people expected to attend the sessions, plan 30% or more additional space when 10% or more of the participants will use mobility aids (According to "A Guide to Planning Accessible Meetings," published by the ILRU (Independent Living Research Utilization program in Houston, TX.) This publication will be referred to as the ILRU meeting guide throughout the remainder of this document. (For purchase information, see resource list on last page.)
If participants are required to change rooms during the course of the meeting it is generally easier for those with mobility impairments if the rooms are in close proximity to each other. If a floor change is required, the elevators must be able to handle the number of people requiring elevators effectively so that they are able to attend the next session on time. If not, extra time should be factored into the agenda to ensure participants with disabilities do not miss part of the next session. For similar reasons, it is best for accessible restrooms to be located on the same floor as the meeting room(s).
When specific problems regarding the accessibility of the site are discovered, a decision can
be made to drop the site from consideration. It is sometimes possible, to have the problems
remedied as part of the contractual agreement to hold the meeting at that site.
Choosing A Location
When choosing a location for an accessible meeting, it is important that accessible transit options to the meeting location are readily available. If meeting participants will be traveling by airplane, is there accessible ground transit available, for a reasonable cost, from the airport? Some people traveling with mobility devices prefer not to change planes. Are there direct flights to this location? Or will people have to transfer to a commuter airplane? If air travel is not involved, is accessible public transit available? Does it come on a regular schedule, or are special arrangements needed? These points are all important to consider.
If the meeting will be held over several days or if meeting participants are expected to go out for lunch "on their own," evaluate the area surrounding the meeting facilities for access. How accessible are the local restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping centers? It is helpful for the meeting planner to create a list of suggested, accessible places to go and see to be included in the registration packet.
Other information that might be included with the registration form or pre-meeting information packet include:
Meeting Room Set-up
Meeting room setup is also an important issue related to the accessibility of the meeting facilities. People who use mobility aids should have options regarding their seating, instead of being limited to the back of the meeting room. The ILRU meeting guide recommends, that aisle and other circulation space should be no less than 36 inches wide and 62 inches or greater is preferable. Also, 30 inches of clearance is needed between the floor and table apron to accommodate people who use wheelchairs, most standard tables meet this requirement. If more knee clearance is needed, books or blocks under the table legs may be able to provide it.
Other meeting room set up considerations include lighting and seating requirements for sign
language interpreters, electrical outlet requirements (including requirements for
accessibility equipment used by participants and/or presenters during the session), and whether
or not ramps and special seating/table space for presenters are needed.
2. The Accessibility of Information
The information presented by speakers must be communicated in a way that is understood
by all of the meeting participants. Information obtained from the registration form can help
identify particular needs of participants and the accommodations that the presenter should make
in order to effectively communicate with the entire audience. Here are some tips to share with
presenters that will be speaking to an audience with various disabilities. Many of them are from
or adapted from the ILRU meeting guide.
People with Physical Impairments
Meeting materials should be presented to participants in a binder to permit ease in turning
the pages and quickly accessing materials being discussed.
People with Visual Impairments or Learning Disabilities
To assist people with visual impairments, and people with certain types of learning or
cognitive disabilities, the presenter should provide a verbal description of visuals, including
overheads, slides, and charts. Visual aids should be easy to read. Text should be displayed in
large bold letters, eight lines of text is the maximum that should be presented on a slide or
transparency. The presenter should be advised by meeting planners of any alternate format
requirements for presentation materials and how to obtain them (i.e. braille, large print, audio
cassette, computer disks).
People Who Use Sign Language Interpreters
The presenter can ease communication barriers for those who use sign language interpreters by:
People with Hearing Impairments
Some types of assistive listening devices are plugged directly into the sound system provided. In this case, the presenter needs to use the amplification system provided. If the presenter answers questions and a microphone is unavailable to the questioner, the presenter should repeat the question. It is helpful to many people with hearing loss if the presenter speaks only when facing the audience.
People with hearing loss find printed copies of meeting materials and presentations helpful. For
example, script copies of a non-captioned slide show are useful. Advance copies of
presentations, especially those with technical language, and extensive use of proper names can
be helpful for interpreters and CART (Computer-assisted Real-Time Translation) court
Offering Appropriate Accommodations
The best way to accommodate the accessibility needs of individual meeting participants is to ask
them. An efficient way to do this is through the use of a registration form. If necessary, staff
can follow-up with the registrant. See sample registration form
attached to this bulletin.
Assistive Listening Devices
If an assistive listening device is requested as a meeting accommodation, there are a few ways
to obtain the device or system specified if the host organization does not own one. The audio
visual company that is providing any other electronic equipment for the meeting may be able to
provide it. Or the state office or commission on deafness should be able to supply information
on where to rent these devices. The local chapter of Self-Help for Hard of Hearing (SHHH),
Independent Living Center or other deaf or disability organizations may also be able to offer their
Computer-Assisted Realtime Translation
Computer-Assisted Realtime Translation (CART) is an accommodation option that is becoming more widely used for meetings, teleconferences and in educational settings. CART is performed by a court reporter/stenocaptioner who listens to a speaker and enters the speaker's words, immediately after the speaker has spoken the words, into a computer that displays them as text to the participant. The court reporter/stenocaptioner uses a stenographic keyboard to input phonetic symbols that are then translated by the computer's software into text. This text may be read directly from the computer screen by a single user or depending on the size of the screen, a small group of users. For larger audiences the text can be projected onto a bigger screen. Advance copies of the agenda and meeting materials are helpful to the court reporter/stenocaptioner. It allows her or him to prepare for the meeting by loading unusual terminology into a "job dictionary" on the computer.
Some people use the terms computer-assisted realtime translation (CART) and realtime captioning interchangeably. The term "realtime captioning," when used with precision, refers to the use of a live video display with the speaker's words shown as captions on the screen.
There are several ways to locate a court reporter/stenocaptioner qualified to perform CART. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) maintains a list by state of Certified Realtime Reporters. (Address is on resource list, at the bottom of this document). The state court reporters association can also be contacted for this information. To be certified, a registered professional reporter must pass a five minute test with or without attending a training workshop. There are court reporters/stenocaptioners that are not certified that are qualified by their experience. In this case, ask the person if she/he has experience working with consumers who are deaf. His/her typing speed should be at least 225 words per minute, and you may wish to check references.
The cost of CART varies greatly by location and setting. The charge is less per hour for a
regular assignment, such as in a classroom setting, than it might be for a one-time meeting.
RESNA TA's experience is that CART services are roughly comparable to a sign interpreter's
charges, in the case where a single user has requested CART for a meeting.
Alternative Formats: Braille, Disk and Large Print
Braille Transcription Services
An accommodation that is likely to be requested is brailled meeting materials. Most braille transcription services require receipt of materials in advance of the date needed. The service RESNA TA Project uses, Volunteers for the Visually Handicapped located in Silver Spring, Maryland, needs the materials two weeks prior to the meeting date.
Meeting Material on Disk
Most braille transcription services request that documents sent to them for transcription be on disk. People with visual impairments, people who are blind, or other meeting participants may also prefer to have meeting materials on disk that they can then use with screen readers and other forms of computer-related technology. The general rule is to provide any information on disk in a text format, a word processing file striped of formatting, no columns, bold, tabs, columns etc., for this use. However, because computer technology continues to advance it is best to ask the individual what format is best for her/him. One way to accomplish this is to ask for this information on the registration form. Please see the sample registration form for suggested wording.
Large Print Documents
When creating a large print document, most sources recommend using an 18 point bold, plain
font, like Helvetica, on paper that does not produce a glare. A buff color paper is preferred to
white. Light yellow is recommended by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) because
it produces the least glare under a magnifying glass. Readability is increased by using a
ragged right edge, and 1 inch margins. Never produce a large print document in all capital
lettering, because it is difficult to read. The AFB recommends 1.25 inch spacing
between lines when an 18 point font is used. Print large print documents on paper of standard
size, 8.5 by 11.
A Guide to Planning Accessible Meetings, by Kailes, J., I. and Jones, D., published by the ILRU (Independent Living Research Utilization) program. Both accessibility checklists are included in the ILRU meeting guide. ILRU's address is 2323 S. Shepherd, Suite 1000, Houston, TX 77019, Tel: 713-520-0232. The cost of the guide is $25.
National Court Reporters Association, 8224 Old Court house Road, Vienna, VA 22182. Tel: 800-272-6272 or 703-556-6272, ext. 24.
The RESNA Technical Assistance Project (#HN92031001) is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education (ED) under the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act Amendments of 1994. The information contained herein does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of NIDRR/ED or RESNA and no official endorsement of the material should be inferred.