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Access In Physical Event Spaces

Image of a restroom sign that shows a woman, a man and a wheelchair user and says all gender restroom.
It's not a binary!

Looking at my current research one of the things that keeps jumping out at me is the idea of accessibility and how we define accessibility, especially in this 'post'- pandemic space. Accessibility, for all intents and purposes of my research is based around the idea that people with a disability should have access to spaces and places the same way in which able-bodied people do. That is the most simple definition for an idea that requires such nuance! But lets consider what it means to have access in physical spaces, which is an idea that I think is most familiar to people both within science events and science festivals and just the general lay public: for everyone (able bodied and disabled) to gain access to a space, there have to be certain features of a space to allow access. I also invite people to consider that access is not only a two-sided coin that is asking for event planners and individuals to think in only a dichotomy of access between "us and them" but rather to think of all the potential people that may exist to accommodate.

Some examples are:

  • Stairs?

    • who can and cannot use the stairs and how can we make the space easier for them to access? we may need a ramp, a lift, or other options for people to access different areas of a building.

    • Stairs can be difficult not just for disabled people but for elderly people, small children, but also pregnant people.

  • Space to manoeuvre inside of a venue?

    • Is there space for a wheelchair to move around the different physical barriers inside your space?

    • A wheelchair user might not be the only who needs space - what about a family using a pram? Or someone with a cane or crutches? A parent holding a child's hand?

  • Options for the loo?

    • Having a restroom that is disabled friendly is key for all venues to be "accessible" and they not only need handles, a call string, but should also include a changing table at correct height.

    • Other options can include a non-binary restroom and a family restroom; having this additional restrooms creates further access to people

  • Parental needs?

    • In addition to having changing rooms in a family style restroom make sure there are changing tables in the mens and women's restrooms. This allows either parent to take their child in to change them and acknowledges the different parental dynamics that exist.

    • Make sure changing tables are at a heigh suitable for different users (tall, short, wheelchair or mobility device user)

    • Does your venue have a place for nursing parents? Some parents may want privacy while nursing and having a quiet place for them and their young child is necessary. Also consider that having a nursing room should not be a shared space but a "one person at a time" location. It should also include a sink, a refrigerator, and outlets.

  • Quiet Places?

    • Some people can become overstimulated in a crowd and having a space for them to decompress with tools to reach a calm mindset is a great way to help them continue to enjoy a place and to not become overwhelmed.

    • Some science festivals have adapted neurodivergent cool down rooms where guests who are neurodivergent can come to have a rest - the room is cold, the lights are low, there are toys to use that are stimulating and relaxing, noise cancelling headsets, soft areas to sit and lay down and it's great for kids and adults alike.

These are just a few examples to think about when considering accessibility. You'll notice that while some of these may start out as being for people with a disability, they also open up the opportunity for many more people to join through greater access. In this way, accessibility is not a binary - it is not a "disabled versus abled" body when creating access to physical spaces; instead it should be thought of as, how many ways can we create access for many bodies, many people.

Have you integrated any of these into your events or projects to make them more accessible? When you look for a venue for your event, what are stand out features that make you think 'that's the one'? How high on the list is accessibility when you're designing a new project?

Let me know in the comments or email me!

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