Running accessible meetings
Planning to make sure your meeting is accessible needs to begin at the earliest stage of organisation – and not as an add on a couple of days before it happens. This includes such things as finding a suitable venue, creating the agenda, and designing communication materials and publicity. The goal is to make the most of people’s time and ensure everyone is able to participate as much as possible, and people’s diverse needs are accommodated.
Physical, communication and environmental barriers to people’s participation are varied and will depend on an individual specific needs. Some barriers can be unintended, while others can be avoided. For example, booking a venue on multiple levels with the only access being stairs, and you have people using wheelchairs attending.
This information provide some basic steps you can consider. You may find that inclusive measures you put in place to ensure the participation of disabled people will also benefit the rest of the participants, for example plain English communication.
Before the meeting
People have different needs. It is useful to check with the participants before the meeting if they have any needs that will help their participation, eg dietary requirements, being met at the venue on arrival, needing accessible parking close to the venue. This can be done in the registration process and in other communication with participants.
Some people may want or need to bring a person to help with their personal needs on the day
Your arrangements should include the support person, such as for catering, seating, travel, and room accommodation. Make sure you understand the role of the support person - do not assume they are there to speak or act on behalf of the disabled person they are working with.
Where people with mobility impairments are participating in a meeting, ensure the physical aspects of a venue are accessible. For example, having accessible toilets, space for people using wheelchairs to move around and be seated in the meeting room, and clear wide aisles. In the meeting room, distribute spaces in the seating for wheelchairs around the room – don’t have these spaces all in one row.
In consideration of people with mobility impairments, ensure meetings rooms are in close proximity so that participants do not have to travel far between sessions. Similarly, when you are providing food and refreshments.
An outside space, like a garden or grassed area, is required for guide dogs to use during the day.
Check the emergency procedures, including evacuation, and that clear signage and instructions are visible. On the day, you should outline what to do in an emergency and consider assistance for participants where needed. Modern venues should have flashing lights to alert deaf and hearing-impaired people who will not hear an alarm and realise they need to evacuate the building.
Accessible car parks
Ensure accessible car parks are available for use by people with mobility impairments or those using wheelchairs. Car parking should be made available near the meeting rooms, where possible under cover in case of rain, and on a flat surface.
Provide material in advance
Make sure information to be presented at the meeting is available in advance. This is particularly important for people with vision impairments, deaf people and NZ Sign Language interpreters, and people with intellectual disabilities. Having time to review information will enable them to be prepared for the meeting and know what is being discussed. For example, it is not possible for a deaf person to both read text and watch an interpreter signing.
Make sure all information to be produced for the meeting is available in an accessible format. If a video is being produced, consider adding subtitles for deaf and hearing impaired people.
NZ Sign Language (NZSL) interpreters
Whenever deaf people are participating in a meeting, you need to have an NZSL interpreter present.
If the meeting is longer than 20 minutes, two NZSL interpreters are required. They share the task of interpreting, taking turns and offering support to each other to ensure their service in translating English to NZSL is of high quality. If you can only get one NZSL interpreter, you will need to have a five minute break every 20 minutes to give them a rest.
Booking NZSL interpreters should be done in advance, as there are labour shortages and there is a big demand on their time. Information to be interpreted is required in advance as far as possible, to enable them to prepare and know the material as much as possible. Make sure to discuss their needs when arranging the booking. NZSL interpreters can be booked through the nearest branch of the Deaf Association.
Ensure the interpreters have a space at the front of the room, on the stage if there is one, and can stand close to the speaker. If a deaf person is speaking, then the interpreters will also need a microphone to voice what the deaf person is signing.
Make sure lighting is good on the speakers. If there are NZSL interpreters working and/or deaf people presenting, there needs to be sufficient lighting for the interpreters’ signing to be visible.
If a datashow presentation is being given, sufficient lighting should to be kept on in the meeting room for the interpreter to be seen during the presentation.
A solid, dark coloured or non-distracting background is important to have behind where the NZSL interpreters are to stand. This should ensure maximum contrast of the interpreters signing against the background, which will help deaf people better get the information being communicated to them in NZSL.
Read tips for working with New Zealand Sign Language interpreters
At the meeting
Information in a variety of formats
Any information to be provided, either before or during the meeting, should be available in a variety of formats to ensure its accessibility by people with a range of needs. For example, in electronic or Braille for blind people, in large print for people with vision impairments, and in plain English for everyone. Ensure people making presentations read out any graphics used so the information is accessible by vision impaired people.
Some people may need to sit near the front of the meeting room. For example, hearing impaired people wanting to be close to speakers, or deaf people having a clear view of NZSL interpreters.
All people will benefit from frequent breaks in the meeting, and this may be of particular benefit for some people with mental health issues.
Setting meeting rules
Start the meeting with ground rules on how the meeting will operate, so that everyone present knows how to behave and what to expect. For example, during discussion only one person will speak at a time, to respect the opinions of others and allow each person to have a turn speaking. Include what the agenda is for the day and highlight key times, such as breaks, end time, and any other functions that are planned.
Don’t assume everyone attending is familiar with common rules of meetings.
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