An event in an idyllic marquee or temporary structure in the middle of a field might sound like a brilliant idea, but what should event planners do to make sure their event is welcoming to those with additional accessibility needs?
Simply put, brands wish to reach as many people as possible, that of course includes those who might have a disability or those who are part of an increasingly aging population. Doing very little or nothing at all is simply not possible for event planners who are representing the reputations and ethos of a myriad of different businesses: accessible events are a must. Distressing reports of a speaker at a national disability conference in Melbourne being carried onto the stage because it was not wheelchair accessible, cannot be repeated.
Selecting a suitable venue for an accessible event might seem straightforward but it is, in reality, much more complicated than it first appears. If you do wish to utilise a temporary structure, using contractors that are qualified and insured in erecting temporary spaces that adhere to basic accessibility considerations is a must. Whether it’s a Nordic teepee, stretch tent or inflatable, MUTA members are generally the way to go. MUTA members must be trading for two years before being admitted and have to pass a credit check – so asking to see the hirer’s current MUTA membership certificate is a good start. Members also sign up to a code of practice requiring them to be legal, decent, honest and truthful, as well as hitting a professional standard of workmanship.
Accounting for almost half of the temporary structures that are referred to English Heritage for comment – which goes some way to understanding the popularity of marquees – they can vary from marquees erected for a one-off event to more substantial structures such as those used by hotels for seasonal hospitality. For heritage properties, it can keep hordes of attendees away from historically conserved areas while letting private hire use the property as a spectacular backdrop for an event.
It is at these locations that the setting up and breaking down requires ultra-sensitivity to preserve the venue as agreed with the venue’s host. For multiple events, this can result in a long-term conservation plan being drawn up between the site and event providers, as well as local authorities. For example, Bramham Park near Leeds, a registered historic landscape, is the venue for a major annual music festival. A conservation management plan was an important tool in a case like this to ensure that areas of sensitivity are protected from damage.
Then there’s the toilet issue. Many events have been caught out by either not hiring enough temporary loos or expecting attendees to trudge all the way back to the main permanent building in order to spend a penny. By spending actual pounds on additional and accessible bathroom provisions from companies like Mobiloo, which works to make sure events or venues are accessible to the quarter of a million disabled people, those who would otherwise be stuck at home simply because of a lack of adequate facilities, are not ignored.
Ensuring level access might seem obvious, but the entrance itself should be level or ramped, and if there are steps as well these need to have a handrail and clearly marked step edges. Portable ramps can be acceptable for a few steps, but ensuring they are out when needed constantly makes them undesirable. Revolving doors are not suitable for wheelchair users, guide dog owners and many with walking difficulties. The position of the entry door needs to be clear for people with a visual impairment and glass doors should be well identified with bright markings on the glass to be safe.
For temporary structures that might have different sections or break-out areas such as multi-deck constructions, ensure that the corridors are wide enough and that entranceways are extensive for wheelchairs to enter or to manoeuvre within. As a rule of thumb, if two wheelchairs can pass each other, then the access is sufficient. Designer and manufacturer of inflatable buildings, Tectoniks, has entered the event rental market, creating unique inflatable and portable pavilions. By making them bespoke, it was able to fulfill a brief from Hewlett Packard recently which required a wide access to the temporary structure to ensure an accessible event.
Lighting is also a major consideration. Companies like Yorkshire Yurts include a variety of lighting as an added extra to its vast variety of themed yurts. Ensuring that an event is appropriately lit will have an impact on how those with additional needs can make use of the facilities without fear of tripping in darker spots. Another point to consider might be to find out if anyone attending has light sensitivity issues or a visual impairment that will be affected by your themed ambience. While natural light is always preferable for daytime events, direct sunlight, particularly on a bright day, is generally uncomfortable. When organising accessible events, the venue should be well lit with no changes in light levels in different areas, so that delegates are not required to constantly move to avoid harsh beams of light.
It’s easy to see why alternative temporary structures are a popular choice for both venues and event producers – they can be an important source of income and add a ‘wow’ factor to the event, but consider whether the diversity of clientele you are hoping will attend need extra consideration. If an outside structure is necessary for the mood you are trying to create, plan accessible events by making sure your attendees are safe and welcomed first.