I am frequently infuriated by the lack of attention paid by event organizers to creating events that are inclusive to all. While I recognize that event-making is complicated and that event staff are often strapped for time, energy and resources, it’s seems like a tragic waste to place so much effort into logistics without paying careful attention to ensuring as wide and diverse an audience as possible.
In this spirit, I present Pete’s Design Patterns for Welcoming Events, a short and incomplete checklist that I’d like events to go through, during their planning and execution, to work against this tendency.
- Reach Non-English Speakers. Not everyone speaks or reads English. And even more people don’t regularly consume the English-only media that you do. I ran into friends on Saturday, for example, who are longtime Charlottetown residents but who’d never heard of Art in the Open because they don’t read or listen to the English-language media.
- Clearly Publish your Age Restrictions. We once drove all the way to Summerside for a Lennie Gallant concert at the Silver Fox Curling Club only to find that we couldn’t attend because it was restricted to people 19 years old and over (even though they’d happily sold us a child’s ticket). If for some reason you cannot avoid age restrictions, please be up front and clear about them.
- Clearly Publish your Venue Accessibility. Ideally all events should be accessible to everyone, but if they are not, the least you can do is to clearly publish information about what’s accessible and what’s not. Include information about parking, stairs or other barriers, seating, audio system, and washrooms. The federal government has a useful accessible meeting-planners guide that’s just as useful for event planners. You should also consider joining the Access 2 program that provides free admission for an attendant for those who would benefit from it.
- Publish your Schedule as Open Data. If there was ever a pool of information that cries out for uniformity, it’s information about events, especially multi-day, multi-venue events. And yet schedule data is often published at the last minute, in non-standard formats and, all-too-frequently, is published as a collection of graphic images that cannot even be read by screen readers. There are lots of free online tools that allow you to publish schedule data in a form that others can integrate into their digital lifestyles (Google Calendar is but one). Here’s an example. Here’s another.
- Be welcoming. This is the least concrete of my patterns, but it’s arguably the most important. It’s likely that, no matter the nature of your event, lots of people carry around biases that would prevent them from attending or, if they do attend, from feeling comfortable. I’ve never been to a burlesque show, for example, because I’m afraid I’d be freaked out by, well, whatever I think goes on at burlesque shows. But I probably should go to a burlesque show, and all it might take to get me in the door would be a sentence or two in the marketing making it clear that everyone’s welcome, and someone at the door to say hello. My friend Luisa organizes a whole conference on this every year, but the basics are simple: be human, confront your assumptions, be absurdly open and welcoming.
Do those five things and you’ll open your events up to a much wider audience. You’ll be happier. I’ll be happier. And the people who wouldn’t have seen what you’re up to otherwise will be happier.
(Feel free to add to this list in the comments).