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Make your events accessible With as much as 15% of the world’s population and 7.5% of South Africa’s population having disabilities, why wouldn’t you make your events fully accessible?


ynn McLeod remembers going to the movies in the 80s with her wheelchair-bound mother. “It was quite a performance,” she recalls. “The cinema could only be reached by stairs or escalator, so the cinema manager would stop the escalator and my dad would have to collapse my mum’s chair to get her on to it, restart the escalator and stop it again at the top. By that point, everyone had stopped to watch us.” A lot has changed since then to make environments both physically and socially more inviting for those who have disabilities – especially after 1994, when the new South African Constitution was created with a view to making society more inclusive regardless of race, gender or abilities.

TYPES OF DISABILITIES Broadly speaking, there are four types of disabilities. People can have just one or a combination of these:

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•Hearing disabilities: Hearing disabilities

cross a spectrum from those who are hard of hearing to complete hearing loss (deafness). It’s important to understand that not all deaf people use sign language. Hard of hearing people may be able to use assistive devices such as hearing aids, and some may be skilled lip readers. •Visual disabilities: As with hearing disabilities, visual disabilities can range from partial loss of vision to complete loss of vision (blindness). Again, not all blind people can read braille, so don’t assume this. Some blind people may be accompanied by a guide dog or use a cane. Those with partial vision may still be able to read written communication if it is well formatted and presented. •Motor disabilities: This includes those people who use wheelchairs or who have impaired mobility. To make it easier for them, ensure your event layout has wide aisles, smooth flooring, and ramps and lifts as alternatives to stairways. •Cognitive disabilities: Some disabilities affect people’s mental and social faculties. This can be more extreme, such as brain injury, dementia or autism, to milder conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyslexia.

Also, don’t forget that people can have a permanent or temporary disability. For example, if someone has broken their leg and is on crutches, they have a temporary disability that needs to be accommodated. Because of the variety of disabilities, it is best to find out from your attendees early on in the registration process what disabilities and special requests they might have, so that you can assist them effectively.

MAKE IT UNIVERSAL Architect Ronald Mace came up with the term ‘universal access’ in the 60s, which essentially means that instead of designing something for able-bodied people only, you design it for them and people with disabilities. This makes products, services or environments more inclusive – and often much easier to use, for everyone. For example, ramps don’t only help people in wheelchairs but they also make life easier for moms with prams and elderly people with walking sticks. Universal design should be the ideal standard that venues and events aim for, as it allows more people to attend your events and to have a better experience.

TOP TIPS FOR AN ACCESSIBLE EVENT There are a number of things to keep in mind when planning an accessible event, including: •Venue checks are critical: As an event planner, you should never assume a building can be used by people with disabilities, even if there


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