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Published by

Lisa Hodgson

05 April 2024, 1:32 UTC Share

Welcoming events: Why accessibility matters in event planning

It is well known that there is a lack of diversity when it comes to those who are participating in public policy opportunities. The House of Commons Liaison committee report ‘The Effectiveness and influence of Select Committee system’ states that ‘UCL Public Policy recommended that: “All select committees should seek to increase the diversity of the expertise with which they engage, including academic expertise, in terms of gender, ethnicity, career stage, geographical location and social background of witnesses and advisers.”’ It suggests that to increase diversity centred around academia that there needs to an increase in the number of activities carried out including training, fellowships and a culture change. We at the Public Policy Hub at Durham University have been looking at how we can reach a wider and more diverse group of academics and how we can actively encourage them to engage in the variety of opportunities available.  

What I did 

With this in mind, each year we organise and deliver a number of events helping to inform and encourage our academic community to engage and participate in public policy opportunities. When trying to understand how we can be inclusive and reach a more diverse group of people it became apparent that we were not considering the different and diverse needs of everyone when organising such events. In light of this, I set about creating a Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) checklist to use when organising events to ensure that they were as inclusive and accessible as possible.  The aim was to ensure that all participants felt included, had an enjoyable time and felt that they were able to be their true selves. If the events that we are organising are off putting to the very people we are trying to reach, then we are always going to struggle to have diverse voices engaging with public policy. Little did I know when I started looking at this, that it would lead to working with some great people and show how small changes can make a big difference to individuals.  

I did research to find out what works and what can be challenges and I also worked with Dr Keren Maclennan, an academic in the Psychology department and a member of the Centre of Neurodiversity and Development at Durham University. I approached Keren as I had heard her speak at an event organised by the centre about Neurodiversity in the workplace and how small things can have such large impacts on individuals. Together we created the EDI checklist that looks at all different parts of an event from registration to the language used by speakers and provides some additional guidance.  

So what’s included? 

The EDI checklist covers lot of areas of an event and here is a snapshot of it.   

Picking a venue is important, ensuring that the space is fully accessible to all and that everyone has access to every area, checking that wheelchairs users can move freely around the room and have access to all areas. Thinking in advance about parking, public transport links and ensuring that this is available to everyone. It is also important that space caters for sensory impairments and sensitivities. Finding out if private or quiet sensory friendly rooms can be available and with this in mind, being mindful of how they may be used. Private rooms could be used for private prayer time or by nursing mothers and parents. 

Sending people links in advance of what buildings and rooms looks like, highlighting what facilities are available, as well as sending an agenda of the day can help people feel less anxious and more prepared for the event. Timing of any event is important, taking into considerations not only time for people to travel but also people with caring responsibilities. When organising events, it is important to also be mindful of religious festival dates.   

When thinking about registration it is important to ensure that information is collected in advance to ensure that support can be provided. Also ensuring that people stationed at the registration desk understand indicators that additional support maybe needed such as people wearing Sunflower lanyard or producing a Jam card.    

When recruiting speakers, it is important that all EDI groups are represented in the line-up. Ensuring that the speaker area is accessible so that people can see the speakers and hear what is being said. Speakers need to be briefed in advance to understand the audience needs and they should be advised on using inclusive language. Presentations need to be clear and presented in a way that meets visual needs and that pictures used represent the whole audience. 

Thinking about dietary requirements is not just thinking about asking people about their dietary requirements and catering for them but ensuring that buffets are is fully accessible and ensuring that food is clearly labelled.   

That is just a snapshot of the things that we can, and some may seem small, but they will mean a lot to some. The EDI checklist is a living document, it includes a lot more detail and will change as we learn more but ultimately it is about ensuring everyone feels welcome, able to be their true selves and have an enjoyable experience. This has also been taken up by other departments within the university and can only be a positive thing.  If we want to increase the diverse range of research evidence that is being used and heard, then we have to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support a more diverse group of academics. 

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