COP26 Accessibility Gap in the Spotlight

News reports this week about how a political leader was unable to gain access to the COP26 venue because she uses a wheelchair ignited new discussions about accessibility issues at events.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Karine Elharrar

Israel’s energy minister Karine Elharrar speaks to Sky after she was unable to participate in the first day of COP26 in Glasgow because the transportation offered to her was not accessible by wheelchair. (Screengrab)

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Israel’s energy minister Karine Elharrar was unable to participate in the first day of COP26 in Glasgow because the transportation offered to her was not accessible by wheelchair. Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, told Israel’s Channel 12 that she could not reach the conference grounds because the only options available to get there from the gathering area were to walk or board a shuttle that was not outfitted for wheelchairs.

“I came to COP26 to meet my counterparts in the world and advance our joint struggle against the climate crisis,” Elharrar wrote on Twitter. “It’s sad that the United Nations, which promotes accessibility for people with disabilities, in 2021 doesn’t worry about accessibility at its own events.”

The lack of attention to this planning detail at a global event underscores the need to think about accessibility at every stage in the attendee journey as face-to-face events return. Several years ago, Convene published takeaways from the BestCities Global Alliance’s “Universal Accessibility in Meetings” research study, whose goal was to promote awareness among meeting organizers and the supplier community on the need to remove barriers in meetings and conventions for delegates with disabilities.

The study also included some recommendations on how destinations can make the business events they host more inclusive, and offered recommended clauses in event RFPs — the best place to start to ensure inclusivity.