There is no shortage of events across the WSU system. From lectures to performances and sports events to conferences, Cougs can expect something will be happening almost every night.
That’s where Acacia Kapusta comes in.
Kapusta is the outreach and education coordinator for the Division of Student Affairs, Community, Equity and Inclusive Excellence.
A large part of her work is currently focused on educating faculty, staff, and students on issues related to allyship and disability as well as advocating for students on campus with a disability. This includes working with facilities on campus to create more inclusive and accessible environments so that everyone can enjoy campus events.
“If it’s not your lived experience, you don’t often think about it,” Kapusta said. “But disability does have a ripple effect on everybody in the room regardless of if they are thinking about it or not.”
Over the past few months, Kapusta has collaborated with facility and event staff in the Compton Union Building to make small changes to meeting rooms and event set-up that help foster a more inclusive space. For example, meeting rooms in the CUB now have spaces designated specifically for those using a wheelchair, removing the need to move a chair out of the way.
“People with disabilities are so used to adapting themselves to the environment that it is so much easier and almost an impulse to say, ‘No, it’s fine, I’ll figure it out,’” Kapusta said. However, thoughtful planning can help make everyone feel welcome, instead of feeling like a burden, she added.
Space for everyone
According to Kapusta, those looking to plan more inclusive events should begin by reaching out to members of their community that have a disability and talking about it in advance. “The biggest thing that we need to do is talk about it rather than be ashamed of it,” Kapusta said.
In general, there are very few legal guidelines for temporary event space accessibility. However, there are a few best practices that event organizers can keep in mind to make sure their events can be enjoyed by everyone.
Select an accessible location
Is the building or event location easy to get to and enter? Certain buildings, particularly if they are on a historic register, are not required to provide the same level of access as newer ones. Make sure elevators, ramps, handrails, doors, and signage make it easier for everyone to get to your event.
Make it easy to move
Planning wider aisle and paths ensures that those using mobility devices can navigate around the space during an event. There are no universal requirements for temporary seating, but it is best practice to allow for at least 36 inches.
Encourage microphone use
Not all members of the audience may have perfect hearing. Making sure everyone uses a microphone during an event ensures all members can be engaged in the conversation. Encourage attendees to share thoughts or questions via microphone, regardless of their location in the room.
Provide accessible materials
Visual presentations are a common component of many events. Make sure your materials are designed in a way that is easy to read with an appropriate amount of color contrast and font sizing.
Charts, tables, and pictures are excellent resources but are not nearly as valuable for those who have limited or no sight. Hosts can help make their presentations more accessible by providing verbal descriptions of visual items.
For those with limited or no hearing, having visual components and not relying on sound alone is important. Make sure content is accessible by providing visual materials, closed captioning or live captioning, and/or interpreters.
Be mindful of dietary needs
Allergies and special dietary needs can make events with food challenging for those who follow a restricted diet. Work with your caterers to ensure adequate options are provided and let attendees know what is available. If registration is required, include a section for attendees to note their needs.
Encourage accessible food service
Is food easy to reach and serve? Are those who are seated, with a cane or have challenges grasping able to serve themselves? Are there straws or other necessary utensils provided on request for those who may need them? Is it known that these items are available by request?
Ask for feedback
Make sure that participants can provide feedback about what worked and what did not regarding the accessibility of the event. Kapusta notes that there is always room for improvement. “Simply asking questions like, ‘How accessible was this event for you and what ways we can improve accessibility,’ can be immensely helpful,” she said.
Kapusta shares that those with disabilities often feel isolated. However, inclusive and easily navigated spaces can help address that feeling. “I think, ‘Oh look, here is a space that is here for me. I am invited into this room, and I am a part of this,” she said.
Want to learn more?
Students, faculty and staff are invited to participate in this year’s Disability Awareness Symposium on Monday, April 8 beginning at 9 a.m. in the Compton Union Building M.G. Carey Senior Ballroom. The focus of the symposium is to educate participants on how to become advocates for disability. Live streaming will be available and no RSVP is required. For more information visit Disability Awareness Symposium website.