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Planning An Event

Site Selection

Sites constructed after the ADA was passed should generally meet the ADA’s facility standards. Those standards were updated in 2010, and sites constructed after March 2012 will meet the new 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (opens in a new window). Sites that comply with the older ADA standards and have not been altered are also considered “accessible.” However, if existing facilities, or parts of them (whether they comply with the older standards or were built before the passage of the ADA) are altered, then the altered areas must comply with the new standards to the maximum extent structurally feasible.

Existing facilities that are not altered must still improve accessibility. Private businesses must remove structural barriers where it is “readily achievable” to do so, meaning where it is “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” Existing structural conditions, costs, and the financial resources of a particular business must be considered, so what is readily achievable will vary from one business to another. Additionally, since the obligation is ongoing, things that are not readily achievable at a certain point in time may become achievable at a future time.

You should always ask about the accessibility of facilities when considering event venues. Not all facility sales representatives will know about the accessibility features of their facilities. Hotels, however, are specifically required to keep detailed information about the accessibility of their properties. This includes public spaces like meeting rooms, restaurants, lobbies, and parking lots, as well as accessible overnight guest rooms and other guest amenities such as fitness rooms or swimming pools. Since hotels must provide this information to potential guests seeking to make reservations, they should have no trouble producing it for meeting planners.

Many meeting planners hire consultants to assess potential event venues, especially for very large or complex events that may involve multiple or specialized facilities. But if you want to assess a facility yourself, the New England ADA Center offers an ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities (opens in a new widnow). This user-friendly tool is filled with helpful diagrams and illustrations and includes instructions for use. The checklist contains a basic section that will allow you to review spaces such as parking lots, entrances, and public restrooms, as well as several sections on recreational facilities such as swimming pools and golf courses. You may wish to include an affirmative statement of compliance, or allocation of responsibilities between landlord and tenant, in any rental agreements or contracts you enter with meeting venues. This can help both parties understand their responsibilities, particularly if any temporary measures will be taken to ensure access during your event.

This section of the Guide will explore more specific elements of event planning that will help you make your event as accessible as possible.

Pre-Event Planning

Knowing your audience is critical to ensuring that meeting room layouts, menus, and other elements of the event will allow every participant to engage fully. Make sure your registration materials and forms ask specifically about your audience's needs and accommodations. See the sample below:

To successfully participate in this event, which of the following will you need?

[  ] None - I do not need any modifications to participate

• Materials Provided In:

[  ] Standard Print

[  ] Large Print

[  ] Braille

[  ] Audio on CD

[  ] Text-Only

[  ] Electronic Files (formats may include PDF, Word, Text, and Excel)

• Communication Formats / Aids:

[  ] American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting

[  ] Other Type of Interpreting (please specify; e.g., Contact Signing, Tactile Interpreting): _______________

[  ] CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation)

[  ] Transcripts

[  ] Assistive Listening Device

• I use the following assistive mobility device A device designed to assist walking or general mobility; such devices can include wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, braces, crutches, canes, or other items.: ______________

• I will be accompanied by a service animal: _____ YES _____ NO

• I will be accompanied by a personal assistant An individual employed to help someone with a disability at home, in the workplace, or in the community. A personal assistant may help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, or running errands, or may assist an individual with transportation, communication, retrieving objects, or any tasks that enhance personal productivity and effectiveness.: _____ YES ______ NO

• I have the following dietary restrictions:

[  ] None

[  ] Vegetarian

[  ] Vegan

[  ] Organic

[  ] Kosher

[  ] Gluten-free

[  ] Dairy/Casein-free

[  ] Sugar-Free

[ ] Other: ________________________________________________________

[ ] Food Allergies/Intolerances (please list): ________________________________________________________

• Other accommodations that will help ensure my full participation: _________________________________________________

• If meeting planners have questions, the best way to reach me in advance of this event:


As attendees to our conference may experience multiple chemical sensitivities, please refrain from wearing all perfumes and use fragrance-free, unscented personal care products for the duration of our event.

Pre-event communications, including promotional and registration materials, should disclose any plans to use flash photography, strobe lights, loud/amplified noise or music, or fireworks. Theatrical fog, chemical air fresheners, and other smells added to spaces can make them inaccessible to those with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or other intolerances.

Keep in mind that every component of your event should be accessible to ALL participants. Make sure pre- or post-event optional tours, social activities, or recreational opportunities are inclusive as well. If an optional activity is not fully accessible, disclose those details in advance so individuals with disabilities have the information needed to determine their interest and ability to participate.

Meeting Room Layouts and Considerations

The layout of your meeting, event, or conference will dramatically impact the way attendees engage with your program and with one another. Creating the most accessible event possible allows all participants to fully participate. Those who use mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, crutches, and braces, require more space to move around. Other accommodations are needed for those with hearing or vision disabilities. This guide provides recommended layouts in a variety of styles that you may print and share with facility staff. Additional considerations, such as audio/visual tools and using a speaker’s platform, are also included.

Audio Visual Components

Make sure your registration process includes questions about specific accommodations registrants may need (please see a list of recommendations for your registration documents in the Pre-Event Planning section (above on this same page). Some requests trigger specific responses under the ADA. This guide includes a full discussion of the types of accommodations that may be needed by individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing, and for those with vision disabilities.

Find out in advance if your facility has any assistive listening systems or devices available, how the meeting room is wired and equipped for sound amplification, and if there are additional costs for accessibility equipment and associated services. Ask if the facility has experience offering Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services, or if they have a local contact who can provide this service if needed.

Many individuals who attend your event will neither disclose their need for accommodation nor offer any visible clues to their needs. This is often the case with individuals who are experiencing gradual loss of hearing or vision due to age. For this reason, keep universal access in mind when planning the AV components of your meeting.

Food and Beverage Service

The Food Service: Accommodating Diners with Disabilities (opens in a new window) factsheet provides both legal standards and promising practices for paths of travel, approach to dining spaces, seating, dining table and service counter heights, and other tips for making meal and break areas as accessible as possible.

Food Allergies and Sensitivities

According to FARE (Food Allergy and Research Education) “Fifteen million Americans have food allergies – and they are eager to find restaurants [and other venues] that can accommodate their needs.”

The number and variety of special diet requests has grown significantly in recent years. These needs include attendees with food allergies and intolerances, as well as those on special diets for medical, health, religious, or other reasons.

Dietary needs can include avoiding common allergens (milk, soy, egg, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish) as well as vegan, vegetarian, organic, kosher/kosher style, and any number of “free” diets (free of gluten, sugar, fat, etc.).

Collect information about your attendee’s dietary needs during the registration process. It’s the responsibility of attendees to notify you of their needs in advance so you can make appropriate plans. Here is a sample of what this section might look like in your registration materials. Include a “none” option. Include a specific question about food allergies and a space for attendees to list other needs.

  • I have the following dietary restrictions:[  ] None[  ] Vegetarian[  ] Vegan[  ] Organic [  ] Kosher

    [  ] Gluten-free

    [  ] Dairy/Casein-free

    [  ] Sugar-Free

    [  ] Other: ________________________________________________________

    [  ] Food Allergies/Intolerances (please list): ________________________________________

Share this information with the catering staff for your function and develop a plan to provide attendees with food items that meet their needs. Chefs are increasingly experienced and comfortable in accommodating guests with special diet requests. Consider providing attendees with tickets or index cards that specify their particular diet for each meal, so service staff can easily identify and serve them appropriately.

Collaborating Agencies: ABLE Tech, DRS and Oklahoma Works

Used with permission of Mid-Atlantic ADA Center which
holds the rights to all content.
Accessibility  |   Checklist (PDF)

Planning an Event

Updated on 2019-01-07T12:24:11+00:00, by Kim O'Meilia.