- Corporate Event, Event

Corporate events: Are you thinking about physical or hidden disabilities?

Did you know that a whopping 16 million people in the UK have a disability? That represents 24% of the total population. In 2022, it was confirmed that there are also almost 5 million people with a disability within the UK workforce – an increase of nearly 70% since 2013. 

The mainstream introduction of remote working has ensured that there are more opportunities than ever before for people with disabilities to benefit from a flourishing career. Working from home has opened up new possibilities for career development. It is helping to lower the disability pay gap, which is currently at 29%.

Here at Inspired Occasions, we work closely with clients across the UK to create compelling corporate events, which range from full-blown seminars and conferences to smaller team-bonding activities or individual training workshops. As event planners, we know how essential it is to create an accessible event that meets the needs of all your delegates. 

We’ve taken a deep dive into the issues surrounding corporate event planning and physical or hidden disabilities to help you identify how you can make your next event more accessible. 

To help us with our research, we’ve spoken directly with Kim Sale (Marketing assistant at Opus People Solutions Ltd), Gavin Neate (Founder, Wel-co.me) and Jo Barber (Founder, Seeing Social) to find out their experiences of attending events with physical disabilities. 

From our conversations, it’s clear that many event venues need to go much further with their accessibility information to communicate what facilities are available to support visitors with additional needs. 

Let’s find out more.

Are venues doing enough to communicate their capabilities?

The first step in planning a corporate event is to source a suitable venue. For many businesses, your choice will often be focused on budget, availability and location. But suppose you’re serious about hosting a truly accessible event. In that case, your research should focus much more on what facilities are available for people with disabilities.

This is a huge issue and a topic that Jo Barber has looked into in great detail. 

She says, “As a wheelchair user, the first thing I do before visiting any venue is to explore their website to see what the facilities are. Most websites will have an accessibility page, but the information is often lacking. I need to be able to look at the imagery and see if any steps could cause problems or if there are any ramps available to help me get into the building. Often, venue websites have beautiful images, but they crop out the information that I need to see to make an informed decision.”

Kim Sale agrees. She says that when she’s asked to attend an event at a venue, she wants to know essential information that will help her understand what to expect. 

“It is not just about steps and ramps. It’s also whether there are any uneven paths – gravel or pebbled paths can be really difficult to navigate. Ideally, a corporate event would take place on one floor, but I need to know if there is a floor plan or map of the building available. That plan should highlight where the nearest toilets are, what the route is and if there are any lifts. I also want to be able to know how far away the car parking is, how many blue badge spaces there are and how to apply for those parking spaces if needed.”

While many venues will be easily able to accommodate these requirements, the lack of information provided in advance is a crucial barrier to many people feeling that they are able to attend an event. 

One of the things that you can do to aid your venue communication is to use video footage to help people with different needs and different disabilities identify whether it matches their personal requirements.

For example, rather than just stating you have a specific number of accessible toilets or lifts venues should explain what equipment is available within each toilet, whether there’s anyone trained to offer help if needed, whether there are any weight restrictions within the lifts or if you need to access a key to enter the toilets.

As event planners, we wholeheartedly agree that this information needs to be prioritised in your decision-making. Finding a venue is always tricky, especially when you have a limited budget or a short timescale. However, accessibility should always be a critical factor in your research. 

We also believe that it’s essential to make sure that you communicate all of this information with your visitors within your event joining instructions. This is your opportunity to speak directly with your guests about what they need to participate in your event. By facilitating a confidential line of communication, you can make sure that you’ve done everything possible pre-event to make your guests feel welcome on the day. 

Staff training is potentially an issue.

Corporate events are difficult to staff. As well as your own internal team, you’ll be relying on venue staff and potentially agency staff to help manage the success of your event. 

Unfortunately, too often, staff training (or a lack of) can cause your delegates to feel unwelcome. 

Jo Barber explains more.

“There is a huge issue within events teams where a lack of staff training or awareness can cause huge problems for guests. For example, if venues have T-Coils, I can link in with my hearing aid. But often, what happens is that junior staff members, or perhaps agency staff contracted to work on the day, don’t know what I’m talking about if I ask for help. Similarly, if I ask for a route to get from one room to another, those same staff won’t know which way is best for me in my wheelchair. Venues must provide training and awareness to everyone, from your senior teams all the way to your janitorial staff, reception staff, contracted workers and temporary staff. That way, guests will know that whoever they stop to ask for help (for whatever reason) will receive a great experience.”

Staff training is something that Gavin Neate admits is a real problem. It’s why he developed the web portal WelcoMe which is accessed directly through the website My.Wel-co.me. Here, members can set up a profile and plan their visits directly without needing to download any software.

This is a software which seamlessly integrates communication between venues and guests before they arrive. At the touch of a button, a guest can outline how they would like to be greeted, what facilities they need, and what support they may require from staff. They can even pinpoint a specific arrival time (accurate to a few minutes), ensuring that someone is there, ready and waiting to help.

He says:

“The idea of WelcoMe is to overcome those staff training issues. Unfortunately, training tends to get forgotten about, or it is seen as a tick-box exercise. But with this app, you can ensure seamless communication between the venue (or event hosts) and the guest. When the guests are about to arrive, they can notify the venue of everything they need to know. For example, if someone is hearing impaired, they can let you know if they rely on lip reading and what lighting they need to be able to do so accurately. If your guests don’t like to be touched physically, they can let you know – avoiding any awkward missed handshake moments. The venue (or event host) will be able to seamlessly greet the guests in the way that they prefer, without any miscommunication. It’s a potential game changer in the way that we support people with any disability.”

Another benefit of an integrated tool such as WelcoMe is that it will enable guests to complete any paperwork before their arrival. During an event, the registration desk may be busy, so having that additional health and safety and risk assessment (such as a PEEP form) completed in advance will allow your delegates to arrive quickly and be able to enjoy the event. 

How accessible are your event logistics?

Here at Inspired Occasions, our event planning support goes beyond finding a venue and negotiating with suppliers. We liaise with your chosen venue to bring your vision to life, and we always make sure that accessibility is incorporated into that vision. 

Your event’s success depends on having seamless logistics; you want it to run on time and for your guests to get to where they need to be quickly and easily. Suppose you’re relying on a range of speakers, or your guests need to move around the venue from one room to another (perhaps as part of a conference). In that case, your logistics can become complex, which is where accessibility issues tend to fail. 

The seating plans

We’ll liaise with your venue to identify the best seating plan for each room. It’s important to make sure that your formal seating arrangements are wheelchair accessible, with room to manoeuvre. We also want to make sure that there’s room for guests to leave a wheelchair or any crutches if they wish or that your chosen venue has a range of mobility aids available to help guests if needed. 

If you are creating a formal seating arrangement, you must think about the accessibility of any guests. They need to be seated where they can safely leave the room in the event of a fire drill or evacuation notice.

Choice of furniture and staging

Beyond this, it’s also important to think about your choice of furniture within your events and on your staging. 

For example, you might choose to have a lectern on the stage for your speakers. But if your speaker is using a wheelchair, that lectern may not be appropriate. Similarly, your choice of microphone and technology needs to consider the needs of the speaker. Some people may prefer a headset microphone that allows the speaker to use their hands freely. But that could cause issues for those with hearing aids who may need a handheld microphone. 

As part of our event management expertise, we’ll always communicate with your guest speakers to identify precisely what they need to ensure the smooth running of your event. 

Event timings

The final point to consider is your event timings. While you may allocate time for guests to get to the stage, move around from room to room, or even time to take a break, those timings are often only considered with physically-able people in mind. 

It’s essential to add in more time for anyone with a disability so they are not rushed and have enough time to get to where they need to go. 

Kim Sale adds: “What would be helpful is if corporate event planners or venues could make sure that disabled or accessible toilets are near the workshop rooms. Or suppose it’s a conference or exhibition. In that case, any event stands are located near entrances or exits – especially if I have to carry lots of items to and from my car. If an event requires different rooms or different areas, then having support from someone to provide accessible or alternative routes or even someone who can save me a seat so I’m not put under pressure to walk into a room on time would make a big difference.”

“Knowing as much information as I can beforehand is really important to making me, and others, feel at ease and comfortable with going somewhere.”

This is something that Jo Barber agrees with.

She says: “Often, if I’m having to go somewhere, the disabled access routes are often longer than other routes. If you’re in an older venue or a big conference centre, it can increase the likelihood of getting lost. Again, this leads us back to the issue of staff training. If you’re not sure where you’re going, you’ll be likely to ask anyone who works at that venue for help. I’ve experienced issues where I’ve been accidentally sent in the wrong direction by staff, who perhaps didn’t know the venue or didn’t understand what physical access I needed. I have had to backtrack on myself. It can be daunting to arrive at a room later than other people – especially if that seminar or training session has already begun.”

As event planners we want to urge venues to improve their accessibility by publishing a hospitality checklist on their website outlining what facilities they have available for people with disabilities. Investing in video walk-throughs and comprehensive photography showing all entrances, exits, lifts, and accessible toilets is essential to give people more confidence that they are able to attend.

2024 is the time to prioritise accessibility for everyone

Clearly, event venues such as hotels, conference centres, and exhibition centres have a lot to do to showcase how they support people with disabilities. 

Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, so accessibility within corporate event planning isn’t a nice to have. It’s a legal necessity. 

We want to thank Kim, Gavin, and Jo for taking the time to share their thoughts and opinions. They’ve highlighted some of the critical disadvantages that they face when visiting any venue for work or personal reasons. 

The explicit action for 2024 for all event organising teams, whether you work in-house or alongside event planners like Inspired Occasions, is to make sure that you consider physical accessibility from the very start of your planning processes. 

Knowing what to look for in a venue beyond budget constraints and availability is essential, as is clear, transparent communication between the event hosts and delegates. Making sure that you’re providing all of your stakeholders with clear room layouts and access routes, detailed imagery and preferably video footage of your chosen venue will help to set expectations and prevent any issues arriving on the day. Similarly, making sure that you’ve given all guests a chance to complete any confidential paperwork in advance will make your event smoother and more enjoyable for everyone. 

Book a call with Inspired Occasions to find out how we can help you

At Inspired Occasions, event planning should be an enjoyable experience. There’s nothing we love more than creating unique and unforgettable events tailored perfectly to your specific dreams. 

If you’re looking for an event planner who listens, offers creative solutions, and goes the extra mile, we’d love to chat! 

Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation, and let’s get started on making your event truly special.

Alternatively, if you need any inspiration, why not head over to our Instagram or Facebook page.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *