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Cornell University

Good planning results in accessible campus events, ADA coordinator says

Thousands of events are held on campus every year, from small events of fewer than 10 people meeting to network over pizza to larger events that attract hundreds for a concert or gallery opening.

Many of these Cornell events – especially those involving food and alcohol; dignitaries; sales events or events held outdoors; or large or controversial functions – require event planners to fill out an Event Registration Form (ERF). While much of the form is easy to complete, “many event planners are uncertain how to fill out the section that asks them to ‘describe how you plan to accommodate guest(s) who may require special assistance,’” said Andrea Haenlin-Mott, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator for Facilities and Campus Services.

“Many people leave this section blank,” she said. “Others are puzzled by what it means, and still others indicate that the space is wheelchair-accessible or that accessible parking is nearby.”

Web resources and university officials can assist with the Cornell event planning process in general and event planning for disability accommodation in particular, Haenlin-Mott noted. These resources not only guide event planners through the ERF form completion, but also help ensure that events are accessible to all.

According to Haenlin-Mott, all university programs, services and activities are required to provide accessibility in accordance with the ADA. As a first step, event planners should put an accommodation statement in their event’s promotional materials so people can let organizers know they need accommodations, she said. A typical accommodation sentence might read: “If you need accommodations to participate in this event, please contact (insert phone number or email) as soon as possible.”

“We also want event planners to think about accessibility when creating their event,” said Haenlin-Mott. “Is the space they are using accessible for people who have difficulty navigating stairs? Is there an elevator to the space? If they are having a reception, are there chairs and high and low tables to accommodate people who are unable to stand without support for long periods of time?”

Just because there is parking nearby or an elevator in the building does not mean that the event automatically is accessible, she said. Other elements, such as the layout of chairs and tables to ensure adequate maneuvering space, need to be considered.

Planners should also see if there is amplified audio for a speaker, and if so, if there is a working assistive listening system in the space, with headsets out and available for use. These are vital if people are to participate effectively when audio needs to be amplified, Haenlin-Mott noted.

Another consideration: If food is being served, are there clear labels on the contents or other measures taken for people who have food allergies? Food allergies can be considered to be disabilities in some cases, so if food is provided, food labels and allergy considerations are important elements of the planning process.

Haenlin-Mott said it is important that, as the responsibility of the event coordinator, costs to make the program accessible are included in the budget planning process. Most accommodations are not costly and mainly require thoughtful planning. For these and other considerations, see the accessible meeting and event checklist, Haenlin-Mott said.

(Nancy Doolittle; Cornell Chronicle)