A few years ago, I had two knee surgeries that required me to be temporarily mobile through the assistance of a wheelchair. While I was only in a wheelchair for about 3 months, it opened up a new world – and new perspective – to me when I wear my events planner hat.
For a marketer, we love kudos when attendees tell colleagues how awesome the event was, post pictures on Facebook, or hashtag what blew them away. But where marketers fail at is inclusiveness and accessibility.
Whenever I wanted to attend a professional function, I had to call ahead and let them know what my special needs were. Most of the time it was about handicapped parking, but oftentimes it was about accessibility to the venue…. those trendy downtown locations that have been modernized for cool office spaces. Can you believe in this day and age that events are still held on the 2nd floor of historic buildings that have no elevators? The solution for that event is that the female host was going to “carry me up the stairs”… as if that wouldn’t bring attention to my disability. I could write a book on the lack of ADA compliance at North Carolina State University – a state funded college at that.
People who have special needs, temporary or permanent, don’t want the attention of what makes them different – especially in the workplace. Independence and dignity are important.
When you plan your next event, see what it will look like at another perspective. Borrow some assistive devices (wheelchair, walker, crutches) from a local healthcare facility and navigate yourself through exhibits, doors, conference rooms, and buffet stations. Walk through the event with dark sunglasses to see what those with low vision see. Don’t forget the backstage areas for the speakers or entertainers as well.
While it seems like a welcoming idea to add a statement on a brochure or website about letting the event organizers know if you have special needs, why do people have to take that extra step?
We get choked up when we are asked to like a Facebook post of a soldier with a myriad of physical disabilities, and these soldiers are coming home to integrate back into the workforce.
You may not always see a wheelchair, leg braces, or other devices. You may not notice a missing or artificial limb, and people who have a physical limitation should be allowed to attend events without having to ask if the event will be inclusive for them. The event organizers should have enough creative weapons in their event planning arsenal to make all feel welcome.