The venue will be one of your first large choices. It is the building that houses the event, which means it will affect participants’ experience in a myriad of ways. Some important things to consider for hosting a ChairJam are accessibility, availability of tools & other amenities, cost, and space. Finding a venue which gets full marks for all of those is possible, but requires that you start early. Getting a venue last minute is not a situation you want to find yourself in.
1.05 Scheduling and timing
Before we discuss venue, it is important to consider a few things about the wheelchair-using demographic. Wheelchair-users often require personal assistants to accompany them at all times and the availability of these assistants is something you need to be considerate of while deciding what days of the week your event will run. It is often the case that these personal assistants are not available on weekends and, consequently, wheelchair-using participants might also not be able to make the even if it’s during a weekend. Titles II and III of the ADA makes it clear that service animals may not be barred from any public place or business. This is good to know since some wheelchair-using participants might require a service animal. Please also be considerate of normal work hours. Even if the event is scheduled for the weekends, take into account Friday being a workday.
Talk about long-term scale
1.1 How do we choose the right venue?
1.11 ADA Compliance
ADA compliance should not be your final, ultimate goal with regards to accessibility. ADA compliance is a very low bar and only meeting that will result in a sub-par (even unsatisfactory) experience. The checklists provided below are a step up from just-ADA-compliant. If possible, go the extra step by asking wheelchair-users to visit the venue and provide feedback on accessibility and changes that you could make to get the most out of your venue. ChairJam Pittsburgh 2019 took this measure when we encountered some significant issues with the available venue. Finding another venue on a tight timeline would have been challenging and risky, so getting help directly from a wheelchair-using individual to review the event space proved extremely useful when managing the venue’s weaknesses.
1.12 Checklists and Toolkits
Several checklists are available online that list desirable features for accessible venues. Refer to these while choosing or assessing your venue:
1. A Toolkit for Planning Accessible Meetings and Events by American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights
You can adhere to portions of these checklists based on your target demographic. Try to fulfill as many of these requirements as you can, but the venue can be supplemented by organizer efforts in order to alleviate specific issues. We give some examples of this below.
If you are organizing something on a college campus, get in touch with relevant personnel / faculty who can guide you in regard to what building is most accessible. For ChairJam Pittsburgh 2019, we contacted CMU Disability Resources. If going the college venue route, we recommend securing a space as soon as you can. They are rather difficult to get on short notice, especially for something with the space requirements that this event can have.
If you aren’t planning to use a university campus building, consider reaching out to local Maker Spaces and community organizations about possible venue options. Be aware that your selection of venue will influence your ChairJam’s resulting prototypes and participants’ experiences. A Maker Space will, understandably, drive participants towards a more crafty route, for example.
1.13 ADA Compliance
ADA compliance should not be your final, ultimate goal with regards to accessibility. ADA compliance is a very low bar and only meeting that will result in a sub-par (even unsatisfactory) experience. The checklists provided earlier are a step up from just-ADA-compliant. If possible, go the extra step by asking wheelchair-users to visit the venue and provide feedback on accessibility and changes that you could make to get the most out of your venue. ChairJam Pittsburgh 2019 took this measure when we encountered some significant issues with the available venue. Finding another venue on a tight timeline would have been challenging and risky, so getting help directly from a wheelchair-using individual to review the event space proved extremely useful when managing the venue’s weaknesses.
1.2 How do we augment the venue?
Try to at least get dedicated parking for wheelchair-using participants. The closer the parking is to the main entrance, the better. If it’s at a distance, make sure there’s an accessible side-walk leading to the venue. Often areas that seem fine at first blush will reveal some real issues when looked at with a more critical eye. Sidewalks can be cracked, broken, and overly sloped. Construction can sometimes make an area flat-out impassable for wheelchair-users. Look around the venue for these kinds of concerns.
Ask wheelchair-users about their modes of transport for getting to the venue before the event. Some may wish to rely on local transportation options rather than driving themselves. Being familiar with the local paratransit options will be useful for these circumstances. Paratransit refers to transportation services that do not have a fixed route or timetable and are generally more flexible than the more commonly-used options, such as public buses or trains. It can be useful for participants who have difficulty with common public transportation options.
1.22 Advertising Building Accessibility
While advertising the event, be careful what term you use to describe the accessibility of the venue. A “Wheelchair Accessible”, or WA, venue means doors, aisles, washrooms - including stalls, sinks, soap, grab bar, towel & dryer - are ALL independently accessed without asking for help. If all these features aren’t available at the venue, just don’t label it as WA. Also refrain from labels such as ‘Partially WA’. There is no such thing as ‘partially accessible’. A venue is either accessible or it isn’t. With that in mind, clearly state the shortcomings of the venue on your website. It is OK that these exist, so long as you acknowledge them and do your best to mitigate the resulting issues. Our interactions with wheelchair-users revealed that if you put genuine effort into making a venue as accessible as possible despite it’s exclusionary physical build, it goes a long way toward alleviating frustration with the event.
1.23 Surrounding Area & Restaurants’ Accessibility
If participants will need to find their own food nearby, scout restaurants near the venue. Use the same checklist as the one for your venue to assess these restaurants for accessibility. Prepare a list of accessible restaurants to give to the participants in case the event is running for long hours and food isn’t regularly being provided. Ideally, prepare a list of menus from these restaurants and order-in whenever possible.