Inclusive Events: Before the Event

a woman's hand holding a pen and writing in a planner on a blue table

We are proud of the diversity of our UMass community and value everyone’s experience and ability to participate in events and activities on campus. As you plan your event, please make the following considerations to make it inclusive and accessible to all our community members. This guide is meant to be used during all parts of the planning process. Consider bringing this guide to event planning meetings with your team so that the entire group can have input.

Date and Time of Event

  • Consider holidays and other significant community events that could pose a conflict with the event timing.
  • Develop contingency plans for inclement weather and consider virtual/hybrid options for participants who cannot attend in person.
  • To be inclusive of students, faculty, and staff, look at the academic calendar and consider class schedules and break times.
  • To include caretakers, consider hosting events at times when children are in school. Explore options for providing free childcare at your event.
  • Reserve space on campus that is both inclusive and accessible.

Tip: You can google “inclusive holiday calendar” to find more comprehensive lists of observances.

Event Planning Committee

  • Recruit a diverse planning team (e.g., people from diverse backgrounds including racial and ethnic diversity, gender diversity, disability, different economic backgrounds, and different roles in the organization).
  • Consider collaborating with other offices and departments to maximize visibility and attendance for your event.
  • Consider whose voices are not present in the planning process and how they may be thoughtfully included.

Event Fees

  • If there are fees or costs associated with the event, consider having a “suggested donation” or “sliding scale” rather than a fixed cost. If the facility requires a fixed ticket price, consider a separate fund to support attendees who cannot afford the event.
  • Set aside some free event tickets for participants who may not be able to pay.
  • Consider ways to distribute free or reduced cost tickets to individuals who could not afford to attend otherwise.

Inviting Speakers

  • When putting together a panel or a series of speakers for an event, include speakers from diverse backgrounds from the beginning.
  • Actively reach out to speakers who can provide diverse perspective on the topic(s) you are covering.
  • Inquire about the speaker’s fee and arrange to pay them for their services on time.

Tip: If you are a staff member negotiating fees with a speaker, be upfront about what you are willing and able to pay a speaker and provide examples of how much you have paid to other speakers in the past. This will help your speaker to feel confident that they are being fairly compensated.

Event Space

  • Plan to hold your event in a location accessible to people with limited transportation access. For example, consider hosting at a location that is near a bus stop or assisting participants with arranging carpools or ride shares.
  • Host your event at a location that is physically accessible to people who use a wheelchair or other mobility aid. This means having accessible parking and restrooms, a route to the event space that is paved and not steep, and a layout that lets wheelchair users participate fully and sit with friends. For wheelchair accessible events, be sure to include the wheelchair access symbol in publicity.
  • Accessible seating: whenever possible, offer comfortable seats that are accommodating for all attendees. Ensure that chairs with and without arms are available. If tall chairs and high-top tables are provided, be sure to also offer low chairs and low-top tables equally throughout the space.
  • Include space for American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters at the front of the venue in a place that is highly visible.
  • Make adequate space and accommodations for service animals.
  • If your event location does not have automatic doors, station someone nearby who can open doors for attendees.
  • Make sure to include clear signage for your event and ensure that directions are accessible through various formats (maps, written directions compatible with screen readers, etc.) in your promotional materials.
  • Provide participants who will be attending a multi-day event with a list of local affinity spaces, restaurants that cater to different dietary needs, etc.
  • Consider an event space with accessible, single-user, gender-inclusive restrooms. If the event space has or will include gender-inclusive restrooms, include this in publicity. Campus Planning maintains a map of accessible spaces on its website, including a map of gender-inclusive restrooms courtesy of The Stonewall Center.
  • Designate a quiet room/resting space location where people can be guaranteed a low volume environment. Include signage that designates the room as a low-volume, sensory-friendly space. Consider providing headphones, fidget toys, coloring books, or other comfort items for attendees who may need them.
  • Consider hosting a livestream of your event to ensure people who aren’t able to attend in person are still able to participate.
  • Host your event in a space with a functioning HVAC system or medical-grade air purifier if possible. In spaces without HVAC or air purifiers, open windows to encourage air circulation.

Tip: If the event space does not have gender-inclusive restrooms, you may be able to print your own gender-inclusive restroom sign to tape next to the existing sign. This has become a popular option at conferences held in large hotels.

Event Registration and Accommodation Requests

  • Include information about how and by when to request accommodations, materials, or interpretation in a language other than English, and dietary modifications. Be sure to arrange accommodation services such as ASL interpretation at least several weeks prior to your event.
  • When designing registration forms, make sure that the registration forms are provided on a platform that is easy to access for individuals who are using text-to-speech software(s). Consider having multiple ways for people to register for your event.
  • Provide multiple ways for attendees to communicate with you BEFORE the event to assist them with obtaining accommodations (i.e.: phone, email, social media, text). For phone communication, indicate whether teletypewriter (TTY) services are available.
  • Provide multiple ways for attendees to communicate what accommodations they might need (i.e., mobility, visual, hearing, dietary, quiet zones, fragrance free, child friendly spaces, lactation room, etc.)
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks and hand sanitizer, for attendees who would like them.

Childcare and Caretakers

  • Indicate whether your event is child friendly.
  • Advise that event coordinators/MCs state that attendees may exit the event freely with their children at any time if needed.
  • If you are unable to provide childcare for an event, plan on having a space where caretakers can take their children aside for a break.
  • Provide coloring books or fidget toys to keep children occupied during the event.
  • Host your event at a time that considers the availability of attendees who may be caretakers while also considering your event's needs.
  • Ensure there is a space where nursing parents may go to feed their infant or use a breast pump.
  • Host your event at a location with family restrooms containing changing tables for very young children. Ensure that there is clear signage outside these facilities.

Translation Services

  • Consider whether it will be appropriate to have translation services available for your event and be clear about this possibility in your communications and event promotion.
  • Translation services that may be useful to the community you are attempting to reach include American Sign Language (ASL), Closed Captioning, Spanish language, and languages other than English.
  • For virtual attendees on Zoom, make use of automatic live captioning and live transcription services.

Tip: The Translation Center at UMass offers in-person interpreting services for university campus visits, special events, conferences and more.

Tip: Partners Interpreting is the preferred ASL interpreter and captioner of the annual JEDI conference at UMass Amherst.

Tip: Disability Services can assist you with securing ASL interpretation or captioning services for a class, field trip, or review session.

Advertising and Promotion

  • Aim to reach people who might otherwise be left out of the event. For example, you can print a version of your flyer in Spanish.
  • Use multiple outreach methods when possible, such as posters, flyers, social media, email, etc.
  • Include information about requesting accommodations in all promotional materials.
  • Flyers and promotional materials should include specific information about access and accommodations that is displayed clearly.
  • Electronically distributed materials should be screen-reader compatible with an accompanying text-only version in the body of your email.
  • Be sure that electronic images have alt-text that appropriately explains the image.
  • Include information about accessible entrances and parking on your flyer and include contact information for someone who can assist with coordinating accommodations.

Tip: Once you have created a PDF, you can use Adobe’s “Read Out Loud” feature to check for accessibility.

Community Agreements

  • Community agreements are recommendations provided to or collectively created by a group of people to ensure open, active, inclusive, and respectful dialogue and participation.
  • Consider creating a community agreement at the beginning of your event to set a clear tone and expectations for behavior. If possible, devote the first few minutes of your event to collectively creating community agreements and displaying them in the space for the duration of your time together. The agreement is an opportunity to promote accessibility and inclusion in your event by ensuring that the social rules and expectations of your event space are clearly articulated, understood, and consented to.
  • Potential items to include in a community agreement are equal participation regardless of role, agreeing to use people’s indicated pronouns, assuming positive intent, no shaming/blaming, confidentiality, etc.

Tip: To learn more about Community Agreements and how to make them, check out this resource.

Interpersonal Interactions, Lighting and Sound, Food, and Scents

  • For events where people are expected to interact, consider providing color communication badges. Make sure to include a symbol and/or write the name of the color on each badge to ensure that the system is accessible for color-blind individuals.
  • Some people may have difficulty with bright fluorescent lights, and some people may prefer low lighting. However, for sighted, Deaf individuals, using sign language interpretation may require brighter lights. Be aware of the lighting needs for your event and consider asking participants about their lighting needs during registration.
  • Do not use strobe lights or flashing lights that can be harmful to individuals with epilepsy and include a warning if you are using any media that includes flashing lights.
  • Consider inclusive food choices and provide clear ingredient labels. This means having vegetarian, vegan, Kosher, Halal, allergen-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free options.
  • Recommend that attendees and planners work to provide a scent-free environment. This means that soap, hand sanitizer, lotion, and other products should be scent-free and event communications should discourage participants from wearing cologne or perfume. For additional information about creating scent-free environments, explore this online toolkit created by the Barbara Streisand Center at UCLA.

Jump to a section

Please use the links below to jump to the different sections of the Inclusive Events Guide.

Background and Definitions

During the Event

After the Event and Additional Resources