BestCities Global Alliance, a global network of 12 convention bureaus and destinations, recently published the “Universal Accessibility in Meetings” report, with the goal of promoting awareness among planners and suppliers on the need to remove barriers for delegates with disabilities. The report also provides easy-to-implement recommendations to make business events more inclusive, and an RFP is the best place to start.
BestCities reviewed more than 150 RFPs from international associations — many of which did not have accessibility clauses. One planner surveyed in the poll chalked that up to the perception that there is a low percentage of those with special needs in attendance at most conferences.
Gregg Talley, FASAE, CAE, president & CEO, Talley Management Group, takes exception to that. “For most, the percentage of attendees requiring [special accommodations] is still small enough that it is not viewed as that significant to make it to a determining factor,” Talley told BestCities. “In my own experience, even ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in the U.S. is not enough to effectively provide for attendees. Do a site visit with someone in a wheelchair and it immediately becomes clear how much work there is to be done.”
The associations that BestCities polled that do require accessibility provisions at their conferences included RFP clauses that covered a number of areas. Here are excerpts from several RFP clauses, broken down into three categories: Venue, Mobility, and Other Requests.
- “A detailed description of the proposed site. Necessary information includes confirmation of wheelchair accessibility.”
- “Access to rooms and spaces should be accessible to all participants, including disabled participants.”
- “Ensuring that accommodations and assembly venues are accessible to blind, low vision, and other disabled participants and that appropriate training has been provided to volunteers, accommodation, and venue staff; also, that accommodations and venues as well as access laws are welcoming to those who travel with guide dogs.”
- “Meeting rooms should include accessible space for up to 15 people per committee while the conference and general assembly venue should include accessible space for approximately 100 people.”
- “Fully accessible sites for both program and living arrangements are an absolute requirement. ‘Fully accessible’ means reasonable and equal accommodation for the entire range of disabilities (physical, motor, sensory, and cognitive). The Site and Accommodation Plan should specify the accessibility provision for the conference site and type, cost and standards of accommodation that will be available, as well as their location.”
- “The conference city must have a reasonable level of access for people with disabilities both to public transport and the pedestrian environment. The proposal should show how delegates, particularly those with disabilities, will be able to travel from these points of arrival to the conference location.”
- “Special needs: Hotel/venue must be accessible to attendees with restricted mobility (wheelchairs, walkers, etc.)”
- “The following aspects should be taken into consideration when preparing a bid – medical services; special arrangements for disabled participants.”
- “Catering arrangements at the conference should take account of the dietary requirements of delegates.”
- “Sign language, speech-to-text facilities, and induction loops for delegates with hearing impairment should be available for those who ask for them.”
Silvia Taurer, region manager Europe of RTC Events Management (RTCem), who was also interviewed by BestCities, doesn’t think there should be any excuse for not accommodating people with disabilities today. “Every public space should be accessible,” Taurer said. “In the past, buildings did not have the modern thinking and approach to people with impairment but today, we, in the building industry, are more alert and we have evolved our thinking. These days, we have enough technology and vision to include everyone and meeting space should be better thought through. If you want every expert at your conference, you have to include them all, and that includes people with disabilities.”