Neurodiversity is a term that covers everyone, whether people consider themselves to be neurotypical or neurodivergent. Whilst in recent years there has been an increasing focus on diversity and inclusion within events, the requirements of neurodivergent people to access and participate in events, have perhaps been overlooked.
At Attendable, we have put together a list of considerations for planning your next event, to make it more accessible for a neurodiverse audience, in partnership with Genius Within. Of course, it’s still important to ask people for their specific accessibility requirements and any adaptations you can make, because every individual‘s needs and requirements are just that, individual. But the tips we have put together below will help you proactively plan and facilitate, to make your event enjoyable to a wide range of attendees.
- Seek input and feedback from neurodiverse people right away, from the planning stage to post-event evaluation. This can be in the capacity of a paid consultant, or via feedback from speakers and delegates. Input from people with lived experience can really boost the impact of accessibility efforts.
- Proactively contact everyone involved in your event (as much in advance as possible) and ask them to let you know how you can improve access for them. Open invitations to share requirements can make your event more welcoming and reassure everyone that they can comfortably attend. Remember, in-person and virtual accessibility adaptations can differ but are of equal importance.
- If you have a dress code, or you don’t, provide clear guidance on what that means. Descriptions like “business casual” can be confusing. You can provide clarity by providing examples of what different individuals might be wearing. You could provide descriptions or take photos of key individuals in the outfits they are going to wear.
- Share as much event information in advance as you can, in plain language. Provide; clear joining instructions/directions, an agenda with timings, any conventions or delegate expectations, a how-to for any technology and any presentation slide/content.
- Directions to your event location could include visual maps, with key landmarks to illustrate your instructions. You could also provide a “talking map” which provides a narrative to the event – recorded by someone taking a typical route to the market, so it can be listened to as they walk from the train station, for example.
- If you have photos of the event space, then it is good to share those before the event. Provide information on what kind of seating or table set up there will be.
- Consider event timings carefully. The schedule should not be too tightly packed and there should be plenty of time for breaks for everyone. Think about appropriate times for any tasks, (a guideline here can be helpful) and for reflection and information processing. With live events we all know, even best made plans can need to change. Factoring in processing time within your schedule will allow your attendees to more comfortably adjust to these.
- Provide all in-person delegates with clear name badges and ask virtual participants to display their name clearly on their screen (with preferred pronouns if appropriate).
- For contributors and speakers, when putting together any presentation material, some guidance on common sources of over stimulation (which can prove stressful to some neurodivergent people) can be helpful. For e.g., lots of bright flashing imagery and lighting should be avoided within presentation slides.
- If you are providing any written materials – from presentation slides to event programmes – ensure that you use dyslexia friendly fonts, that you check visual contrast of the text colour to the paper colour.
- Consider the sensory environment in a venue which can be busy and buzzing on an event day, but might not work well for all delegates. Things to think about include, sounds, smells, visuals, lighting. Can you have any policies for in-person attendees which mitigate these factors, such as a fragrance-free request? Can any adaptations be offered for any participants who might find elements uncomfortable, for e.g., ear defenders being clearly available. Can you give people the option to sit where they want in the room? Always ensure exits aren’t blocked and if possible, venue seating allows people to move about the space as required.
- Even with good consideration of the sensory environment having been made ahead of time, it won’t be possible to mitigate all over-stimulating factors, or control the whole space environment fully. One work around is to provide a welcoming but separate calm space/ break room, for people to use if the sensory environment poses a challenge or they need to take breaks/rest. If you can provide this space, some courtesy guidelines on respectful use of the space for all can be helpful (for e.g., not a space to take phone calls away from the main event).
- Provide clear instructions of any expectations for participation in tasks which might require completion. Think ahead about any break-out rooms, warm-up exercises, networking or other socialising times and spaces. Let people know ahead of time, make any requirement to participate voluntary, and on a basis that participants are comfortable with. Flag ahead of time that if people don’t choose to engage in a social element or have their camera or microphone on, this is ok. All participants are aware this isn’t rudeness but simply personal preference.
- Allow for verbal and non-verbal communication and use of specific/literal language in event general information and presentations. How people receive information best may vary. Written and spoken formats but also a sign language interpretation provide the widest option for inclusion.
- In the spirit of celebration, events often feature clapping, but this can be overwhelming for some neurodivergent people. You could suggest ‘flappause’ – waving both hands without making a noise, or using the BSL “silent jazz hands” applause sign as a whole audience.
- Hybrid event formats can work for some neurodivergent people who may find the option to attend virtually or in-person useful where possible. Even if your event will be only in-person, a captioned recording which means people can re-visit the event afterwards, if the full on-the-day experience was unsuitable, can avoid people missing out.
- Can you provide a contact for people to follow up with after the event to contribute if they did not feel comfortable to do so during the event? This will also provide a further invitation for feedback, so that every event is also a learning opportunity, and your subsequent events are even better.
When planning an event which is enjoyable for a neurodiverse audience, careful planning and consideration go a long way. If you need any help or guidance in planning your next accessible event, then why not reach out to us at Attendable today.