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The Audience

Accommodations for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Individuals

Auditory and spoken information needs to be accessible to people whose disabilities affect communication, including people who are Deaf or hard of hearing and those with speech disabilities. One in eight people in the United States (approximately 30 million) age 12 or older has hearing loss in both ears (opens in a new window) according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Millions more have difficulty with voice, speech, and language (opens in a new window).

Individuals with hearing disabilities cover a broad spectrum, from mildly hard of hearing to profoundly Deaf. People who are hard of hearing often rely on their hearing to access auditory information, and request technologies such as assistive listening systems and devices to focus and amplify targeted sounds and overcome background noise. They may also use Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) or captioning. Individuals who are Deaf tend to rely on their vision to access auditory information, and may use captions, CART, and sign language interpretation.

Individuals who are deaf-blind use their sense of touch to access information. They may request such accommodations as tactile sign language interpreters, Braille materials, and tactile signage.

People who have both low vision and hearing loss may request close vision interpreters (interpreters positioned very closely to the person using the service), large print materials, and/or assistive listening devices.

People with voice, speech, and language difficulties may use a variety of accommodations to express their thoughts, such as typing on a computer or text device, using a speech device, and/or using an interpreter to voice for them.

This section will provide information and tips to ensure that individuals with disabilities that affect communication are given full access to meetings and meeting facilities. Information about telephones, video presentations, and remote meetings is included.

Accommodations for Blind or Visually Impaired Individuals

Printed materials can be a significant barrier for people who have visual, learning, and cognitive disabilities. Therefore, it is important to have alternate format options available, typically in the form of large print, hardcopy Braille, audio recording, and/or electronic files. Use the registration form to ask participants which format they prefer (see the section on Pre-Event Planning).

Using information from the registration form, the preferred alternate format materials may be sent to participants ahead of time or provided as part of the registration process at the beginning of the meeting.

Printed materials distributed and used during meetings, including materials used by exhibitors, that have not been converted to alternate formats need to be either read aloud to the whole group or read to individuals who request assistance.

When a meeting includes people who do not pre-­register, materials in alternate formats should be available. When many people register the day of the meeting, it becomes difficult to anticipate participants’ needs. If materials have been converted into alternate formats for people who have pre-­registered, then make sure extras are also available in each format. If there were no requests for alternate formats, materials should at least be available in large print and as electronic files, which can be made available on USB drives or CDs. These are formats that many people with visual, learning, and cognitive disabilities can use.

Accommodations for Individuals with Invisible Wounds

For those with invisible wounds — especially veterans, survivors of trauma, and those with a wide range of neurologic conditions arising from injury — meetings, events, and conferences can present unique challenges. Big crowds, loud noises, blocked line of sight to exits, and many other typical features of events can be so uncomfortable that some people will simply withdraw. This discomfort is a normal reaction to a stressful experience, but isolation is often harmful to the individual and reduces the diversity of the group.

Specific approaches to make your event more accessible to those with invisible wounds:

  • Disclose the use of strobe lights, surround sound and/or large format/high definition video, fireworks, or other unusually loud elements in advance through registration materials, attendee packets, programs, online meeting descriptions, registrant confirmation emails, and other communications.
  • Seated venues for concerts or presentations, which provide a measure of visual and spatial organization, are more accessible than "standing room only" gatherings.
  • In a concert or large presentation hall, hold seats along the sides of the room close to exits for individuals who may experience challenges with crowds. Advertise the availability of these seats and make sure event staff know about them.
  • In meeting rooms, allow individuals to self-select their seats rather than using assigned seating. Some individuals will prefer back-row seats with a wall behind them to being seated in the front or middle of the room; others will prefer seats where exits are in line of sight.
  • Make "quiet rooms" available at your event, especially concerts, large conferences, or receptions. Mark these "time out" spaces with signage and on maps in attendees’ packets, and be sure that event staff are available to help participants find them.
  • Service animals are addressed by the ADA and are increasingly used by those with invisible wounds and other disabilities.
    • Ask in the registration process if a service animal will be accompanying a participant, and increase the number of accessible seating locations accordingly, since individuals using service animals often need more space (similar to people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices).
    • Prepare and educate your event staff about service animals. Many organizations, such as Canine Companions for Independence, offer etiquette tips for interacting with service animals (opens in a new window).
    • Point out in your materials any places that can be used as “relief areas” for service animals (hotels and conference center maps are increasingly including easily-accessed grassy areas).

Accommodations for Personal Assistants and Service Animals

Both personal assistants and service animals may be used to assist with mobility, balance, navigation, communication, and other issues that result from a wide variety of conditions, such as post-­traumatic stress, seizure disorders, short-­term memory loss, traumatic brain injury, and more. Collect information about personal assistants and service animals during the registration process so you can plan the physical space and attendee materials, as well as train event staff.

  • Personal Assistants
    • Ensure seating plans include room for each assistant, both within meeting rooms and meal service areas.
    • In overnight accommodations, room blocks should be adequate to cover the addition of assistants.
    • While there are no regulatory requirements for accommodating assistants in the event, typically assistants are not charged any conference or meeting fees. However, if they will be assisting individuals with disabilities during meals and also will be eating, it is at the discretion of the conference planners whether to charge assistants for meals.
  • Service Animals
    • Include the ADA Service Animal Factsheet (opens in a new window) in your event team orientation and in the materials you share with your meeting facility staff.
    • Prepare and train your event staff about service animals, including proper etiquette. Canine Companions for Independence offers etiquette tips for interacting with service animals (opens in a new window).
    • Point out in your materials any places that can be used as “relief areas” for service animals (hotels and conference center maps are increasingly including easily-accessed grassy areas).
    • Service animals may need space similar to mobility devices (plan for two seating spaces for each person bringing a service animal).
    • Ask that service dogs not be treated with pesticides for fleas or groomed using fragranced products right before a meeting or conference. This will help accommodate participants who may be sensitive to these kinds of chemicals.

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)

The Audience

Updated on 2019-01-07T12:25:08+00:00, by Kim O'Meilia.