Main article: Accessibility
Access for people with vision impairments
Screen reader accessible material
Ideally all printed materials should be available in electronic form. This makes them accessible for people who use screen reader technology (used by some sight impaired people).
Make your convention documents downloadable from your website. This way, people can put them on their own laptop or personal device.
Do not present text in the form of an image. If images of text must be used, transcribe them, using the "alt" attribute.
Describe non-text images usefully with the "alt" attribute.
Maps can be difficult to make accessible. For exterior maps, try marking specific points on map services such as Google Maps, so people can access directions via their personal device. Some venues have their interiors mapped as well, such as large malls in major cities. For other interior maps, work with your attendees to see what works best for them.
Tactile art tour
One very popular event added to the Arisia convention is a tactile tour of the art show, which was developed by Kestrell and Fabrisse.
Preference is given to blind fans and fans with low vision, but not all of the attendees had apparent disabilities.
When 3D artists register for the art show, there is a space for them on the form to indicate if they would like their art included in the tour. The docent for the tour reviews the offered art, and makes some selections to be included in the tour. She usually chooses one or two works of art from each artist that has agreed to be included. We provide participants with cotton archivist's gloves (http://archivalgloves.com/). Each piece of art is handed around the group, while the techniques and materials are described by the docent or the artist. Both the fans who have attended and the artists included have really enjoyed the opportunity to include fans with disabilities and give fans an opportunity to experience their art in a different way. This year, the Artist Guest of Honor (Josh Simpson) included his art in the tour.
I would heartily encourage other conventions to include a tour like this with their art show.
We have added a second tour to cover the Masquerade (costume contest). Costumers had an opportunity to sign up to participate in the tour as part of their registration process, and the tour took place during the "halftime show" while the judges were deliberating (this can take more than an hour). Response from both costumers and people on the tour was postitive, and we will be doing this again next year!
Deaf, deaf, and hard of hearing access
Microphones, CART, ASL
Speakers should use microphones so that hard of hearing people have a better chance of understanding their talks. Speakers in panels and at talks should be reminded not to cover their mouths while talking, which prevents lipreaders from understanding. At WisCon 35 "Use the mic" hand-held signs were provided, which made it much less onerous for audience members having difficulty hearing a panelist. Microphones for the audience are also useful; or panel moderators or speakers should repeat back audience questions clearly into their own microphone.
CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) is real time captioning for talks and can be displayed on overhead screens, for online audiences, and on videos of events. Captioning allows people to read along. It can also benefit people with attention disorders and people who have difficulties with English. If you book a CART provider, make sure to have them arrive a little early, and help them prepare by going over your presentations, including the correct pronounciation of the names of people involved, and key terms (like TARDIS, for example).
(Need more info here on ASL interpretation )
Contact your local Department of Health and Human Services or an ASL Scheduling agency for information about ASL interpretation. Interpretation is expensive so you may need to apply for a grant. This service needs to be arranged in advance of the event and with the individual's needs in mind. Interpreters are highly skilled professionals and need to be paid for their time. Paying for professionals is much preferred to using volunteers because this fits into the social justice model of disability vs. the charity model.
SF/F conventions use jargon and specialized words, so it is a good idea to provide a list of such words to interpreters and captionists in advance if possible.
How to caption vids: http://laurashapiro.dreamwidth.org/274724.html
It can also be useful to mark off some chairs in the front of the room for hard of hearing, deaf, and Deaf people. These chairs should be front and center for lip readers. Also leave some unmarked spots so the lip readers can sit by their friends.
Here is an article on designing space for deaf and hard-of-hearing people: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode50deafspace
Access for cane, crutch, and walker users
People who use canes, crutches, or walkers (as well as wheelchair users) should have advance information about the distances and routes between points. Maps are very useful, with information about stairs, ramps, and elevators. Major elevation changes or events that happen on a hillside should warn of the elevation change and what kind of pathways exist.
Consider putting similar activities in nearby spaces, so someone who is trying to get between them does not have as far to travel.
Provide information about seating, so that people who use these types of mobility aids know that they will have a place to sit and won't be stuck for long periods of time standing.
Queues present the possibility of a long period of time standing. Reduce the impact by allowing these people a way to sit and maintain their position. Some tactics include letting them go first, providing seats which can be easily moved in the line, or giving numbers and having seats available.
When placing seats, leave aisles for access. Make sure there is room between rows of seats for access. Be aware of how close the seats are placed next to each other; nobody likes an elbow to the stomach. At events where there will be large costumes, consider making a section for those who need extra space. For immovable seats such as theatres, measure the seat width and space between rows so attendees will know what to expect.
Know the weight capacity of your seats. Many cheap chairs from big-box consumer stores have a weight limit of 230 pounds, which means that the majority of a football team would not be able to use them safely.
Access for wheelchair and scooter users
Ramps and Doors
Just because a venue says it is accessible doesn't mean it is. Do a walk-through of your venue (or a roll-through) to check for stairs, single-step level changes or bumps, and narrow doorways. 36 inches in the minimum allowed for passageways: carry a yardstick or tape measure with you and check. The passageway must be clear at all levels, with no obstacles on the floor or jutting out from the wall. All stages should be ramped at all times (universal design). If you know there are limitations to your venue, let your members know about it. Note if there is carpet vs. hardwood floor or tile. Check all areas that the convention members will be using including restrooms, the pool, etc., and provide this information. Check how early room reservations need to happen for those who need accessible rooms.
Blue painter's tape (available inexpensively at hardware stores) can be used to mark off passageways and seating. It leaves behind no residue and is safe to use on walls and floors. At WisCon we use blue tape as a signature for Access and it has many uses. For wheelchair-specific seating, we remove 4 chairs (in a square) from the seating area and tape off a "blue square" for wheelchair/scooter users. There should be at least one such space in every program room; in large rooms there should be about 1 for every 100 attendees.
We also use blue tape to divide the corridor on the party floor: half the hallway is for walking, half is for standing around and talking. This is emphasized with signs also. This venture has been very successful and aids in traffic flow. Other high-traffic areas can also be marked off in such away, reminding people to keep aisles clear.
Most hotels and convention spaces should have accessible restrooms. In your publications, note if there are any limitations to this, and where there are accessible family restrooms (with baby-changing stations) and gender-neutral restrooms available. Single bathrooms such as those in con suites or party rooms can easily be marked as gender-neutral.
Because people often use the large, accessible stalls for changing clothes, especially at conventions with cos-players, it is a good idea to create a changing station: a room with curtains or stalls for people to change outfits. This frees up the bathroom stalls for people with mobility needs who actually need to use them. (Hat tip to Socchan for this idea.)
We ask members to limit their use of scented products unless doing so interferes with their own health. We successfully negotiated with our venue to provide scent-free soap in the bathrooms.
Monitor your event for things such as latex balloons, which can give some people severe allergic reactions, and provide information for your members about where they will be used.
Provide a designated area for smoking, away from entrances and air intakes. Make sure that no one has to pass through the smoking area in order to enter the building, including people with mobility impairments. Encourage smokers who can switch to a lower-breathing-impact format for the duration of the event to do so, and encourage people to not bring items which may carry smoke (such as clothing or soft toys which have been exposed) into the venue. Vaping is often lower-impact than combustion-based smoking, but can still pose a hazard to those who are sensitive to nicotine, any flavor component, or the carrier vapor.
Conventions and conferences can be crowded, stressful environments. Note places and strategies that members can go to seek quiet, such as a quiet reading or sitting room or a nearby park. WisCon provides a "quiet room" for people to sit and relax during the convention. Not all members will have a hotel room.
Any time you have an event at which food is served, you are automatically excluding some people due to food allergies and sensitivities. This does not mean you should not serve food: it just means that you should be thoughtful about it.
Peanuts, nuts, wheat, dairy, many kind of seafood and fruit, and other foods can cause some people to have severe and sometimes life-threatening reactions. This can happen even with very small amounts of cross-contamination, such as traces of wheat in spices that aren't certified to be gluten-free, or with a nut-free food prepared on the same cutting board as a food containing nuts.
Provide ingredient lists if at all possible, in as much detail as you can get about the food's source and preparation. Highlight any known serious allergens. That way people can make informed decisions about what to eat. Any information is good!
If a dish is prepared to fit a dietary need, especially if it's been taken care to avoid cross-contamination, label it accordingly. If you're not sure, don't make assumptions. Some possible dietary needs:
- Allergen labeling
- Type of meat (allergies or prohibitions), particularly beef, pork (including bacon), and seafood
- Source of meat: antibiotic-free, free-range, local, sustainable
- Vegetarian (no meat, not even fish, chicken, or bacon; no meat-based broths or fats)
- Vegan (no animal products, including milk, eggs, or honey)
Do not argue with someone over their dietary needs or restrictions, and do not pry. You are not there as the dietary police, you are there to make sure that as many people as possible are connected with food that will not cause them problems. Some supposed inconsistencies may have nuanced explanations, and some may not. Many people who have medical dietary restrictions may choose a more restrictive diet than they could eat, to be sure of safety. If the person who has requested vegan meals takes honey in their tea, it may be that they mostly eat vegetarian food and they have a severe lactose intolerance, and it's simplest for them to ask for vegan meals to avoid any chance of encountering dairy. Sometimes people choose to depart from an ethically based or religious diet, and that's okay -- it's between them and their conscience or their deity. It's not okay if they're forced to depart from it due to inadequate food choices.
Also, asking people to keep their food covered while in hallways and elevators not only prevents spills and other mishaps, but also reduces airborne allergens.
If you are serving food, check with the local authorities about requirements. There may be food safety issues that you are unaware of. Some areas have their food handler certification process online.
If your event is being held simultaneously at two more venues, provide shuttle service between the venues. Remember that not everyone can walk long distances.
Waiting in line: Provide chairs or enable line-jumping for anyone that needs to sit down, rather than have them stand in line for long time periods.
Provide alcohol-based hand gel. Good sanitation is part of access for those of us with compromised immune status.
"Stand to be recognized" is language that should not be used: it excludes those of us who cannot stand. At WisCon 35 members participated in making "wands" out of thin dowels, ribbon, glitter, and paint. These wands could be raised in lieu of standing to be recognized. They were also useful in place of raising one's hand or applauding, which again is something that not everyone can do.
Competing access needs: sometimes one person's required accommodation creates a barrier for someone else. (For example, one attendee with a guide dog, and another attendee with a severe allergy to dogs.) Sometimes there's no good solution. Be respectful and honest about the situation.
Listen to your members! They know best what their needs are, and if they know you are listening, they will tell you. Don't say "no" to ideas you think are impossible due to money or other barriers: just think about them first and see if you can make it happen. Remember that access is first an attitude!
Other accessibility checklists and resources
- Zoe & Hel: Creating Accessible Events: A Checklist for Programmers, Organizers, Advertizers, Speakers and Event Attendees
- Inclusive consultation and communication with people with a disability (pdf) - 2004 guide for government agencies in Victoria, Australia. Still relevant. Has many tips and checklists for organising events, as well as contact information for local organisations which may be able to help with e.g. ASL.