Events for All
How to make your major conference, church event, or Bible week inclusive of disabled people
So often we hear complaints about poor provision for disabled people at major Christian events. We hear from from people who are partially sighted, blind, hard-of-hearing, profoundly deaf, wheelchair users, learning disabled and for those with disabled children who found the events were not working for them because of practical access difficulties and insensitive attitudes. By working through this section of the website and implementing the recommendations, you will meet most needs and improve the experience for disabled people at your event.
- Why provide facilities for disabled people?
- The law says you must!
- A more important reason
- So what should I know about disabled people?
- Models of disability
- Who benefits from good access?
- Who can help us organise our event?
- How many disabled people are we talking about?
- How this guide can help you
- Organising the event
- Plan access in from the start
- How to get started
- Venue requirements.
- Parking at the event.
- Toilets and showers.
- Catering at the event
- Training for Stewards
First, there is a legal requirement that you do. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 made it illegal to treat disabled people less favourably than non-disabled people for reasons related to their disability;
From October 1999, service providers (and by staging your event, you become a service provider) have been required to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people, such as providing extra help or making changes to the way they provide their services; and from October 2004, service providers will also have to make “reasonable adjustments” to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access. So whether you are using your own premises or a special venue for the event, you must provide to meet the needs of disabled people.
Quite simply, any Christian church or organisation holding a major event will want to give disabled people (and those affected by disability, such as family members of disabled people) the same opportunity to hear the Gospel and to participate fully in the event as anyone else. Indeed, by not providing facilities and resources you imply that disabled people are not sufficiently important to make provision for their needs and they will feel unwelcome.
Frequently people say that few, if any, disabled people attend their church or event. This is very much a 'chicken and egg' situation. Experience of many churches has demonstrated that once a church provides such facilities (not just for wheelchair users but for people with other impairments), disabled people and their entire family, start to attend. By making a church service or other event accessible you provide for more than just people with disabilities, you will make it accessible for that person's spouse, children, parents and friends.
In the same way that no two people are the same, no two disabled people are the same, so generalisations are often unhelpful. Society today has two main ways of looking at disability. The model generally used is the medical model of disability that focuses on problems. It sees disabled people as having a problem which needs fixing or curing. The emphasis is on what is "wrong" with them, and they are treated as in need of curing and to be cared for. The model assumes a need of the disabled people to be changed, improved, or made more ‘normal’ or ‘socially acceptable’. The focus is on a lack of ability - what they cannot do. This has often led to disabled people losing control over their lives -and others making their decisions for them. It results in society viewing those who are disabled as needing caring for, rather than as people who contribute to life in the same way as everyone in society. The model is most unhelpful.
The better model, and most importantly, the model chosen by disabled people is the social model. This looks at the environment to see what can be changed to allow a disabled person to take part on equal terms with non-disabled people. Thus, a wheelchair user is not disabled in an environment where entrances are wide, door handles are lightweight and within their reach, floor surfaces are even and changes in level are accomplished by the use of ramps and lifts.
Application of the social model of disability has led to the growth of independent living, where disabled people employ their own personal assistants to help with personal care, housework, going out, socialising, shopping etc. Thus the disabled person retains control of their lives. Most importantly, this is the model chosen by disabled people. Thus, this document reflects the social model approach.
We can do so much to facilitate full participation by everyone, including disabled people. Provision of level access and lightweight doors means parents with pushchairs and elderly people benefit as well as wheelchair users. A loop system means people with hearing aids have far greater opportunity to hear the spoken words. Good lighting benefits Deaf people, hard-of-hearing people, lip-readers, partially sighted people and elderly people.
Ultimately, we all benefit from a friendly environment within which changes of level, weight of doors, levels of lighting, provision of signs and information are all optimised. A venue with good acoustics helps people with speech difficulties to be heard as well as improving the sound of the music band/organ/choir and congregational singing. A carpeted floor (providing the pile is smooth for wheelchair users) benefits many different groups of disabled people. Good colour contrast helps visually impaired people and can be an attractive design feature.
If you already have contact with disabled people, start by asking them what would help them to take a fuller part in the church’s activity. Local disability groups will be pleased to advise you or you can contact the organisations listed in Appendix B who can give practical advice and make your event inclusive of disabled people.
As Christians, we need to reflect fully the society in which we live, and disabled people represent a substantial part of that society. We need to be welcoming, accessible and seeking ways to include everyone, including disabled people who will, like everyone else, have things to contribute.
More than you might think! British Government statistics state that there are approximately 9.8 million disabled people in the UK who are covered by the Disability Discrimination Act, representing about 15% of the population. Consider the following statistics:
- Over 5.2 million disabled people are of working age, equivalent to 18% of the working population
- Disabled people are over six times more likely than non-disabled people to be out of work
- Less than 8% of disabled people are wheelchair users - about 550,000 people
- RNIB state that 1 million people are registered blind and another 750,000 cannot see well enough to read a newspaper or recognise someone across a street
- RNID state that more than 8 million people have a degree of hearing loss, including 2.5 million with hearing aids and 100,000 profoundly Deaf people
- There are 1.25 million people with learning disabilities
- There are 410,000 people with epilepsy
- Over 250,000 people have severe facial disfigurement
- 3% of all children under 16 have one or more disabilities
- One person in three will have mental illness at some time in their life
- One in four households is affected by disability
- 95% of the population will experience disability at some point in their lives
Follow the guide in chronological order and plan ahead.
Some things like arranging British Sign Language interpreters may need a long
lead-time and producing braille versions of conference notes or a songbook
needs forward planning.
Checklists are included throughout and you can pick out the issues you need to consider which have been grouped using the three symbols above for people with limited mobility, people who are Deaf* or hard-of-hearing and people who are blind or partially sighted.
*We have used ‘Deaf’ with an upper case D throughout, as this is the preferred use by people who are profoundly Deaf to differentiate between people who were generally born Deaf and have British Sign Language as their first language and those who are hard of hearing, generally having lost hearing in later life and have English as their first language.
Frequently, organisers get to the last weeks before a major event and start to get enquiries from disabled people who see the advertising for the event and start to call with enquiries about the facilities they would need to participate.
Examples of typical questions asked frequently are:
- Is the hall wheelchair accessible?
- Are there accessible toilets that comply with Part M? 
- What are the parking arrangements for Blue Badge holders?
- Is there a loop for hearing-aid users?
- Do you provide song sheets / notes in braille or large print?
- Is there an interpreter for Deaf people?
- What facilities do you have for disabled children?
- Is there anywhere for me to charge my electric wheelchair?
- Will I be able to plug in my nebuliser? 
- Is there a fridge I can use to keep my insulin in? 
In most circumstances you would be required to provide these facilities under the Disability Discrimination Act if you were asked in advance. With good planning, you can make sure all these types of issues are addressed beforehand and accommodate most requests.
Whether or not you are using your own building or hiring a building for the event, you need to consider a variety of factors that will affect whether or not you will meet the needs of people with a variety of impairments. Do run through the various checklists in each section below
Right from the start you must include information on accessibility in every publicity medium. Generally, space on advertisements or fliers is limited so it is unlikely that you will be able to carry full information.
The minimum you should do is to carry the three international symbols that show you are addressing the issues of disability and invite those people who need more information to phone, email or write to the address on the publicity.
These symbols only promise that you are addressing the issues arising out of limited mobility, hearing or sight respectively. It does not make a promise that you can meet all the needs of disabled people in those groups.
Giving information for disabled people that will enable them to decide to attend an event need not highlight disability unnecessarily if you use a statement such as:
“We are seeking to make (event name) accessible to everyone. There is level access, wheelchair accessible toilets; braille and large print materials are available; a loop is provided and all sessions are interpreted in BSL.”
That statement is informative, helpful and models good practice.
An email address on your advertisements helps disabled people to contact you easily and a web page gives you the opportunity to link to a page that gives full details on the accessibility of your event and, most importantly, any limitations on access. Remember to make sure your website is accessible too! - see this website's accessibility pages for information
On webspages, use one type face only and backgrounds should be white or pale pastel colours, use a sans-serif typeface and avoid small typescript. Use css styles where possible and avoid tables and frames.
Keep the number of typefaces used to a minimum, backgrounds should be white or pale pastel colours, use a sans-serif typeface and avoid small typescript.
It is helpful to provide a separate leaflet, which lists the provision you are making or any other general information about access or limitations to access. This can then be sent to enquirers and used as a crib sheet to answer telephone requests for information. It should include details on:
- parking provision for blue badge holders
- accessible accommodation (residential / longer events)
- accessible showers / toilets (showground-type events)
- Provision of interpreters for Deaf people
- Loop information for hard-of-hearing people - which venues (in a major event using several rooms) are looped?
- Large print/braille information for blind/partially sighted people
- This leaflet should also be put on tape for visually impaired people
- provision made for disabled children in youth events
- provision made for adults/children with learning disabilities
Important to include a named person who is knowledgeable about disability issues included on the information sheet, as a reference point for any disabled people who need help or information. All staff at the event should be aware of this contact name.
Obviously, with events held in permanent structures, the issues are different from temporary structures, such as those in showgrounds, or those using marquees for additional accommodation. However, the principles are common to all venues.
People with limited mobility
- Approaches should be as short as possible.
- Accessible toilets should be located close to the main meeting room.
- Access should be level if possible, or ramped if necessary.
- Do not put all wheelchairs in one area - this segregates disabled people.
- Ensure stewards are properly briefed regarding wheelchair users (see Appendix C)
- You need to have procedures in place for emergency evacuation, which take into account the needs of mobility-impaired people.
- Ensure that at least one seat is alongside each wheelchair position for a friend to be able to sit with a wheelchair user.
- Some seats with arms are needed for people who have difficulty standing (particularly elderly people with arthritis).
- It is good to reserve some seats as an ‘easy-access’ section for people who cannot walk far; again, particularly elderly people.
- Think about safety issues if there is any possibility of people falling down during times of personal ministry. People have been badly hurt falling on wheelchair footplates, and wheelchair users have been also injured.
- If standing people may obscure OHPs, provide hard copies of any songs for those who remain seated, wheelchair users or not. Give priority at the front for wheelchair users who prefer to be where their view will not be obscured.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL), Deaf people who do not use BSL, and those who are hard-of-hearing (many of whom use hearing aids), need different provision and some aspects need to be considered separately. Good, clear signposting means that Deaf and hard of hearing people don’t have to ask for directions. In fact, everyone benefits from good signs.
- Events should be interpreted into British Sign Language
- Enough suitably qualified interpreters should be provided. Normally interpreters work in 20-30 minute sessions.
- A clearly marked, reserved seating area should be provided for Deaf people, at the front of the venue.
- The interpreter must be separately lit at all times, including dramas, when house lights may be dimmed.
- Interpreters should be at a correct height where the Deaf people can see both the speaker and the interpreter, which will provide additional information, particularly an emotional dimension.
- The wall or area behind an interpreter should be plain with no windows.
- The interpreter needs a running order for the meeting beforehand.
- Worship leaders should give interpreters a list of songs and a copy of the words of new songs (before the meeting if possible). Similarly, it helps if speakers can provide a duplicate set of their notes that will allow the interpreter to think about difficult names or concepts.
- Care should be taken to avoid people walking between the Deaf people and the interpreter at any time.
- Leaders should inform interpreters about any out-of-the ordinary events planned for the meeting.
- For a more formal conference, a lip speaker will help Deaf people who do not use BSL or some hard-of-hearing people who need to lip-read, The lip speaker copies the speaker using highly readable lip patterns. Lip speakers, like interpreters, work in 20-30 minute sessions and the same courtesies need to be applied to lip-speakers as to interpreters.
Hard of hearing people
- An induction loop must be provided for those using hearing aids. If the loop covers the whole floor area, there is no need for reserved seating
- Hard-of-hearing people who lip-read need reserved seating near the speaker · See comments about lip-speakers above
People who are visually impaired.
- Make sure that all corridors, approaches and circulating areas are free from obstructions and there are no projecting signs or overhanging branches or plants.
- Large print versions of songbooks and of OHP acetates are essential.
- These large print songbooks are also useful for others who might be unable to see the OHP screen when others are standing.
- Print should be in a Sans Serif typeface like this one. Normally 16 point is adequate, although some people find 30 point necessary. OHP acetates should be in 30-point type, so an easy solution to providing large print is to photocopy acetates.
- Printing should be on contrasting colour paper (black on white or black on pale yellow is best) and on matt (non-glossy) paper. This benefits people with dyslexia as well. · Upper and lower case should always be used, as it is difficult to read text written entirely in capitals, other than headlines or titles.
- Remove a chair at a convenient point to allow guide dogs to sit with their owners and to avoid people tripping over or treading on the guide dog.
- Provide a drinking bowl (old ice-cream container is ideal) for guide dogs.
- Braille is the preferred reading mode of a relatively small number of people. For events expecting over 500 people, braille should always be provided. For smaller numbers, try to determine if there is a demand. If you can do so, let Braille readers know the Bible reading reference in advance so they can bring the appropriate volume. Braille bibles are huge!
- Provide pre-event publicity and information in alternative formats to ordinary print. These could include large print, audiocassette, braille, or as a plain text file on a floppy disk.
- For safety reasons, good lighting is essential for partially sighted people. (Deaf/hard-of-hearing people benefit too, as lip-reading is only possible in good lighting).
- Some reserved front row seats will be needed for partially sighted people to maximise their ability to follow events. These should be clearly marked using the international eye symbol
- Use colour contrast as much as possible to designate entrances/exits.
People with learning disabilities.
In any major family event, there will be a number of adults and children with learning disabilities. Causeway PROSPECTS (see Appendix B) can help you create a special stream at your event with easily comprehensible material.
Some practical issues that you should bear in mind are:
- People with learning disabilities will be helped if any signposting contains a pictorial element - toilets, refreshment area, information point, etc. (Non-English speakers benefit too.)
- Treat adults with learning disabilities as you would any other adult. You can communicate more easily if you use straightforward vocabulary (avoiding jargon words and also avoiding childish language) and keep sentences simple. Try to avoid abstract or complicated concepts or questions.
- Many people with learning disabilities do not read. Therefore do not rely on printed sheets to inform people about the programme and facilities. Keep people informed through simple explanation at various points in the event.
- During worship, try to use songs with simple concepts and language. Take the trouble to explain anything that may be difficult to understand.
People with mental health difficulties
Mental health difficulties include a wide range of conditions. As these are invisible disabilities, you may be unaware that a person is affected, but it is common for people with mental health difficulties to have problems coping with large crowds. It is important that stewards and organisers are aware of this and are prepared to be flexible when necessary. It is helpful to identify a room where such people can discretely sit for a while if they become anxious. Make sure stewards are alert to this type of situation.
Other disability issues.
- Remember that many disabilities are invisible (Deafness, allergies, heart complaints, kidney dysfunction), so assume nothing until a disabled person makes a specific request.
- Always address a disabled person directly, never the person accompanying them, if your question/information is for that person.
- It is important to give adequate time to those with difficulty of speech and not make any assumptions of any mental impairment.
- Don’t group all disabled people together in a ‘disability pen’. You will need to seat some groups together - profoundly Deaf people for example - but try to minimise this for other disability groups.
- Make sure you have a qualified first-aider present at larger events to provide help should a situation, such as someone with epilepsy having a seizure can be quickly, safely and discretely helped.
- Ensure that all event staff and helpers have a full briefing on disability provision and encourage them to familiarise themselves with this booklet.
- Make no assumptions about a person who staggers or who has slurred speech, that person may have a condition such as cerebral palsy.
Provision for disabled children/young people
Separate provision for children is frequently made at major events lasting more than a few hours and the needs of disabled children must be addressed. Children and young disabled people, particularly those with learning disabilities or with complex disabilities, benefit from teaching much more if their needs are specifically addressed. Care needs to be taken when taking bookings for children’s events, that parents are given the opportunity to give as much information as would be helpful to the leaders about the needs of their particular child. In this context, parents are the experts on their children’s needs.
Setting up a buddying system, whereby each disabled child has a helper who is fully briefed on the child’s needs and can make the teaching accessible to them, is a very effective method of ensuring that children benefit from the teaching and activities in their meetings. Information on how to do this is available on Through the Roof’s website, on the ‘Helping Disabled Kids’ pages.
It is appropriate that children with learning disabilities are included in groups suitable to their chronological age, rather than their intellectual age.
- Ensure that there is clear signposting to reserved spaces for blue badge (and the older orange badge) holders. Provide a marshal to help particularly at the busier time of arrival.
- Be firm with non-disabled people who try to use the reserved parking or who try to bring vehicles into circulation areas.
- Allow disabled people to be dropped by the entrance if parking is some way away and give disabled drivers priority, as they cannot be dropped off by the entrance.
- Remember that the main issue for mobility-impaired people, particularly those who don’t use wheelchairs, is distance, so try to ensure that reserved parking spaces are close to the meeting venue, and if they cannot be within, say, 50 metres of the venue, make this clear in publicity before the event.
- For an event where there are long distances from parking areas, consider hiring or borrowing a few wheelchairs to bring people from the car park to the venue. Ensure this is publicised beforehand so people know how to take up the service.
- Try to avoid positioning disabled spaces in places where the mobility-impaired person will have to cross a road or way of traffic.
- There should be enough parking spaces, on hard standing, for disabled people (a ratio of 3 blue badge spaces to every 100 seats is recommended)
- Keep all entrances and approaches clear, including from vehicles used by PA/lighting crew.
- Wheelchair accessible toilets are essential at all events
- Do not use them for storage; the extra space is needed for manoeuvring wheelchairs
- Residential events must provide accessible showers that can be hired in if necessary.
- It is possible to hire hoists to aid people who are mobility impaired.
- Be prepared to remove chairs to facilitate people in wheelchairs. Make sure there is an alternative to fixed seating.
- Provide robust drinking straws for use by people unable to hold cups
- If you operate a self-service refreshments involving the use of trays, be prepared to help disabled people by offering to carry their tray
- For conferences, make sure there is provision on the booking form for dietary needs.
- Chunky cutlery is very helpful for people with poor grip
- A colour-contrasted alternative to ordinary glass is helpful for visually impaired people
Proper training in disability issues for stewards makes a huge difference to the experience disabled delegates have at a large conference or other event. This training can be delivered in-house or a specialist organisation such as Through the Roof can help. An advice sheet of the most important points, which may be photocopied for each steward, is included as Appendix C.
It is very important that Stewards are aware of all facilities available at the event that are of particular relevance to disabled delegates, such as:
- Arrangements for car parking for disabled delegates
- Location of wheelchair accessible toilets
- Availability of information, song sheets etc in alternative formats, such as large print, braille etc
- The area of the venue served by the loop system, if the whole venue is not covered.
- Any special arrangements for locating wheelchair users, e.g. by removing seats from a row etc. They must not make wheelchair users feel a nuisance by inappropriate over-direction or by unhelpful statements like the person is a fire hazard!
- Any reserved seating arranged for those with particular needs, such as interpretation into sign language, the services of a lip speaker, seats near the entrance due to mobility impairment, seats with extra legroom etc.
- Any special chairs giving extra lumbar support for people with back problems
- The location of chairs with arms, for people who find it difficult to rise to a standing position
People worry about using inappropriate language that may cause offence to disabled people, aware that the issue can be a sensitive one. The appropriate use of language is less to do with “political correctness” than with the reinforcement of negative images, incorrect assumptions and stereotypes associated with disabled people.
A far more important issue is your attitude towards disabled people. You won’t be expected to have a comprehensive knowledge of individual disabilities and the simple way is to ask the disabled person himself or herself if they need any assistance and take your cue from them. This guideline runs through all contact with disabled people - ask the disabled person.
Disabled people have identified a vocabulary that they feel is appropriate to use and it is a matter of simple courtesy to use terms which are preferred. The table below will help you to avoid language that is unhelpful.
In this document we have used the phrase “disabled people” rather than the phrase “people with disabilities”. This is at the request of disabled people, active in the community who make the point that they are people with impairments, disabled by society. Either phrase is generally acceptable.
Words and phrases to be avoided:
Don't say cripple Say instead
person with a disability / disabled person
Don't say invalid Say instead person with a disability / disabled person
Don't say handicappedSay instead disabled
Don't say mentally retardedSay instead person with learning disabilities
Don't say mentally handicappedSay instead person with learning disabilities
Don't say deaf aidSay instead hearing aid
Don't say the disabledSay instead disabled people / people with disabilities
Don't say spastic Say instead person with cerebral palsy
Don't say suffering from....Say instead person with ....
Don't say a victim of....Say instead person with ....
Don't say afflicted by....Say instead person with ....
Don't say confined to a wheelchairSay instead wheelchair-user
Don't say wheelchair-boundSay instead wheelchair-user
Don't say deaf and dumb Say instead Deaf
- Treat disabled people as you would anyone else.
- Always speak directly to the person who has a disability.
- Always ask the person who has a disability if you can help him or her in any way.
- Whenever possible, seat disabled people with their friends or family.
- Try to be aware of people's hidden disabilities such as epilepsy or Alzheimer's disease, which may require assistance.
- Assume nothing - always ask!
- Don't use negative terms such as 'crippled' or 'victim'.
- Do not consider a companion or carer to be a conversational go-between.
- Identify yourself by name and as a steward.
- Show a blind person to his or her seat.
- Ensure they know large print song sheets are available.
- Explain to a visually impaired person where things are located.
- Provide space for a guide dog to lie down by removing a chair
- Don't push a visually impaired person - always allow them to take your arm.
- Ensure your face and mouth can be seen clearly.
- Look directly at the person and speak at normal speed with clear (not exaggerated) lip patterns.
- Don't exaggerate or shout.
- Don't speak directly into the person's ear.
- Don't obscure your face
- Give your whole, unhurried attention with good eye contact.
- Remember the person with speech impairment may use another method of communication, such as writing.
- Don't finish a sentence or word for the person.
- Don't get agitated or impatient
- Always ask a wheelchair user if she or he would like assistance before you help.
- Try to sit or crouch down to talk to wheelchair users so that eye contact is easier.
- Provide seats near the entrance for people with mobility difficulties to minimise walking.
- Don't push a wheelchair user unless they ask you to.
- Don't hold on to or lean on a person's wheelchair
- Be patient, give someone with learning disabilities plenty of time
- Don't assume the person cannot understand you.