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people gathered in a meeting roomParticipation in civic and social events is an important part of community life. Public and private entities with obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have an obligation to ensure that events and meetings open to the public are accessible to anyone who may want to attend. Here we outline a few basic steps entities can take to improve access.

1. Choose an accessible site for your meeting or event. Your site selection may be the biggest determinant of how accessible your event will be. When there is a choice among various locations, which there often is, always select the site with greatest accessibility. What does this mean? Ask yourself whether the site has accessible entrances, if the meeting space is accessible to a wheelchair user, whether there are accessible restrooms, how the acoustics of the room are, whether accessible parking is provided, etc. Another consideration is whether the site is accessible by public transportation.

2. Use a reasonable accommodation statement. A major component of event accessibility will be the ability of attendees to request reasonable accommodations they need in order to participate. Entities covered by ADA are required to make reasonable modifications and to provide effective communication through auxiliary aids or services upon request. For example, a guest may need a qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or a large print program book in order to have an equal opportunity to participate in an event. In order to fulfill such requests, the event organizer needs advanced notice. By including a reasonable accommodation statement, individuals will know how and when to make their requests. Here is a sample statement:

Reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities are available upon request. Include a description of the accommodation you will need, including as much detail as you can. Also include a way we can contact you if we need more information. Please allow at least two weeks (14 days) advance notice. Last minute requests will be accepted, but may be impossible to fill. Send an e-mail to (Name of your ADA Coordinator/Department Contact) or call the (Name of your ADA Coordinator/Department contact).

This statement or a similar statement should appear on all event notices and publicity. Because individuals need time to make a request, event organizers should provide notice of a meeting at least one month in advance if possible.  Further, Major public events by state and local governments should be proactive and consider arranging for ASL services even if no one has made a request. Interpreter requests can be made to the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

3. Have a point-person for accessibility. Designating an individual to handle accessibility concerns and reasonable accommodation requests is a good way to ensure that such considerations do not fall through the cracks during event planning and execution.

4. Train staff and volunteers. It is important that anyone working at an event and interacting with the public is trained on basic requirements of the ADA.  Additionally, they should be knowledgeable about rules around accessible parking if provided, and know where the accessible routes and restrooms at the event site are located.

5. Consult the Disability community. Disability organizations, such as local commissions on disability, and state agencies like MOD are a valuable resource for information on how to make sure an event is accessible to all.

These are only a few basic tips. For more information and training, contact MOD.

For further reading, see:

A Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People With Disabilities

Resource table at outdoor event at Boston Common

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