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Feature: Disability Equality – 10 Tips for Trainers


Rick Williams FCIPD is a Director of disability consultancy Freeney Williams Ltd. He is visually impaired and has presented at many conferences on the subject of disability and event accessibility. This experience has shown that many trainers and event organisers are failing to take into consideration the issues for participants who have a disability. Based on these experiences, he summarises the issues that trainers and organisers need to take into account when planning events.

During 2004 there was a large number of events being held to highlight the changes to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) which came into force in October this year. In my experience, ironically, a significant number of those events failed to consider the basic requirements of the DDA and certainly did not follow good practice. This failure not only undermined the intention behind such events but also highlights the difficulties that speakers, trainers and event organisers have in identifying the precise accessibility issues that need to be considered at the initial planning stage rather than as less effective “bolt on” solution at a later stage.

There are a number of issues that could be considered to minimise any problems and ensure good practice is achieved:

1. The DDA requires trainers and organisers to make reasonable adjustments to the way in which they arrange their events – Part III. It also requires them to consider what issues might exist irrespective of whether or not they know someone with a disability is attending. Therefore, it is important to consider what issues might arise irrespective of whether they will attend or not. For example ensuring that there is sufficient accessible parking, with clear, unimpeded access to and around the conference venue.

2. Trainers and event organisers often believe that very few or no disabled people have attended previous events and that accessibility is not a major issue. In reality it is likely that as many as one in seven of the people attending the event will have a disability. Of course, they may not always be apparent but it needs to be remembered that disabilities can be mental, physical or sensory. This means that organisers should, as a matter of course, consider all of the accessibility issues.

3. Organisers have a responsibility to ensure equal accessibility to all aspects of the event to everyone attending it which means identifying and overcoming potential barriers by making reasonable adjustments where necessary.

4. Accessibility is not just about physical access. Reasonable adjustments should be considered in three key areas:

i) Accessing and getting around the venue and accessing services. For example: can all participants have ready access to the refreshments; find and use the toilets; move between the main conference room and any syndicate rooms that may be used.

ii) Access to the conference information needs to be reviewed> For example: can participants with a visual or hearing impairment follow and participate in what is going on; does the information need to be provided in an alternative format before the event; and are the presentation styles being used appropriate for the audience.

iii) The attitudes and understanding of other participants may need to be considered, for example, is small team working involved and does the inclusion of a disabled person require that work to be undertaken in a different way or additional support provided to the disabled participant?

5. The provision of information in alternative and accessible formats. For example: is the website advertising the event accessible to screen readers, if e-learning is being used, is this also accessible, is the information being provided in the right format and at the right time and are arrangements in place for support workers?

6. Many of the reasonable adjustments that may be required will not cost much, if anything. However, where costs are incurred, they should be borne within the conference event budget and not passed on to any one of the participants who may have required the reasonable adjustment in the first place. For example, passing on the cost of providing braille material to a visually impaired participant or charging for a support worker to attend is likely to be a breach of the DDA.

7. It is a fundamental principle that trainers and organisers do not make assumptions about what disabled people’s needs might be. The ability of individuals to deal with their own disability varies widely and whilst there may be some common issues that should be addressed. For example, it is common to assume visually impaired people will want their material in Braille and this is far from the case. Indeed, experience has shown that the majority of visually impaired people attending events prefer their material in advance and electronically. Organisers should proactively identify and discuss any specific access needs, ideally through asking the appropriate questions as part of the initial booking process.

8. Contributors to events should be briefed about their role and responsibilities in relation to the disabled members of their audience. This should cover not only the requirements of the DDA, but also the issues considered to be good practice by the organisers. It is also likely to be useful for speakers to know in advance whether there are any specific issues that the organiser is aware of that may impact on the way they deliver their sessions. For example, providing handouts in advance, the organisation of small group activities and how participants are allocated to them or the need to describe the content of Powerpoint slides for participants who are visually impaired.

9. If trainers or organisers are not clear about what they need to do they should consult specialists in the field. Trying to ‘guess’ what is required often leads to issues not being considered and problems arising. Much free and professional advice is available from a wide range of sources, for example, published guidance from the Disability Rights Commission, the Employers Forum on Disability and many of the national organisations representing disabled people.

10. Finally, it is important to remember that the business case for pre-empting these issues and getting them right is compelling. Thinking about reasonable adjustments and implementing them from the outset is far easier and more efficient than trying to deal with them as a bolt on. Also, it should be remembered that there are potential PR implications for getting these issues wrong, especially where the conference is targeted particularly at issues around disability!


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