12 tips for an inclusive conference

Flanders is rolling out the red carpet for associations and PCOs that want to create impact. In other words: for conferences that want to create a positive effect for society. Not only do they establish a milestone in their conference domain, the members of our society also reap the benefits.

Those members are the "final beneficiaries" of your conference. It is crucial that they too can participate in your organisation in a smooth manner. This is not always obvious because some people have disabilities.
How do you guarantee that these people can still participate independently in your conference, just like their families and caregivers? These 12 tips will help you to ensure an inclusive and accessible experience. That way, your conference will contribute to an inclusive society. See? You are already creating impact.

Before your conference starts

1. Collect as much accessibility information as possible for participants with physical disabilities.
Consider, for example:
•    transport to the conference venue
•    transport in the city itself
•    specific info on hotels, B&Bs and hostels geared to people with disabilities
•    places where delegates with disabilities can go for care and assistance
•    tourist attractions, museums and restaurants easily accessible for them

2. Establish a contact point for support and additional questions from participants with disabilities.
Your association or PCO, as the organiser itself, can be the first point of contact, for providing basic information. You in turn can be supported by a specialised organisation. This organisation does not need to have direct contact with the participants or to be present at the conference. But you can turn to them for more complex questions or requests.

Inclusiviteit 3

3. Give your conference partners a briefing on inclusivity.
Tell all staff and volunteers about inclusiveness and dealing with people with different disabilities. Familiarise them with the specific needs and concerns of these people. This does not always have to be done through a physical meeting. You can also give practical tips via an e-mail or a flyer.

4. Keep your website, app and registration process as simple as possible.
Align your conference website and apps with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Provide features such as text-to-speech and magnification options.
Online forms should be accessible to all and easy to understand. Offer telephone support for participants who need help with the registration process.
Allow people to participate in your conference in a hybrid way as well. People who cannot physically attend will still have the chance to participate via livestreams or recorded sessions.

During your conference

5. Create accessible digital content.
Use accessible presentation software, such as PowerPoint with descriptive alt text for images. Ensure that all digital documents, such as programmes and handouts, are compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. Use clear and simple language in all your written and oral communication.

6. Engage interpreters and subtitles.
Provide sign language interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing participants. Consider live subtitling during presentations and discussions, both on-site and for online participants.

7. Allow accompanying animals.
Consider assistance dogs and other assistance animals. Set up a quiet room where the animals can catch their breath.

8. Provide quiet, peaceful spaces in your conference venue.
Here, participants can retreat if they become overstimulated. This can be useful for people with sensory hypersensitivity, autism or other mental disabilities.

9. Think about your catering too.
Dish out a wide range of dietary options, taking into account food allergies, intolerances and religious or cultural dietary needs. Stick clear labelling on all foods.

10. Apply clear signage.


Use clear, easily visible signage with pictograms and text. This should also be understandable for people with cognitive impairments.

11. Make your networking moments inclusive too.
Organise networking events in accessible spaces and keep various constraints in mind when organising activities. For example, a "walking dinner" is not an option for everyone.

12. Provide a flexible agenda.
Take regular breaks during the programme. Plan these widely enough so that also participants with disabilities have enough time to move around.