Events are an exciting way for readers to meet authors, and vice versa. For many, though, attending them is very challenging, and sometimes impossible. One of the few silver linings of the pandemic has been that most events have moved online, and organisers have found their audiences grow and diversify. People can tune in from across the world, or can fit attendance around jobs and caring responsibilities. For disabled people, it’s been a game-changer.
Many disabled people are still housebound due to safety concerns regarding the pandemic, but many others have always found it difficult or impossible to attend events in person. For this reason, as in-person events begin to become feasible again, organisations must continue to incorporate online and in-person events to ensure that everyone can be included.
Online events themselves need to be accessible. Many platforms provide automatic closed captioning, which are not entirely accurate but make life a lot easier for people in the audience who, like me, are deaf. British Sign Language interpreters can provide their services for both in-person and online events.
When you are planning an in-person event, ensure that wheelchairs can get around your shop or venue. This can be done more effectively by paying someone to go around the event space in a wheelchair, rather than by guesstimating the space. Is there anything confusing in the layout that will hinder access for people with visual impairments? Is there a hearing loop system, and does it actually work? Based on personal experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that most don’t!
Find ways to include disabled people in any Q&As, and incorporate us in the audience. Don’t keep us off to one side in the “disabled space”. Is your bookings website accessible, and do you offer alternative formats? PDF forms are not very accessible; a Word document is better as the font sizes, colours and so on can be altered. Do you ask during booking if attendees have accessibility needs?
It’s not only people in the audience who might be disabled. When you are setting up an event, check with the author to see if they have any accessibility requirements. I’ve attended panel discussions using my Roger Pen microphone, which beams the speaker’s voice straight into my hearing aids. For Q&As, I ask the organisers to repeat the questions to me, or I go into the audience. I do warn people in advance, as being pounced on by an author might be daunting.
Event accessibility is a huge area, but hopefully this article has offered some food for thought. For those wanting to find out more about how to make events accessible to disabled authors and visitors, you can download the Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses guide from clairewade.com/adci.
Helen Barrell’s Fatal Evidence was named one of the Guardian’s Best Summer Books 2018. With Catherine Curzon she writes as Ellie Curzon: The Ghost Garden was shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year in 2020.
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