Guide to Planning an Accessible Event

Community College of Philadelphia shares a commitment to value all persons and seeks to learn from their diverse experiences and perspectives. Thus, we are dedicated to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities and to the continual improvement of accessibility to our campus, programs, activities, and services. This commitment includes planning accessible events so that individuals with disabilities can participate fully in the Community College of Philadelphia experience.

The purpose of this guide is to help you create accessible programs or events that will foster full participation of all who attend.  Envisioning an inclusive event with participants with diverse abilities, advance planning, and early publicity go a long way in creating a highly successful and welcoming event. Please ensure that all personnel in your department who plan or sponsor events (“Event Planners”) receive a copy of these guidelines and follow them when planning events.  

What is the College’s Disability Compliance Obligation?

Federal and state laws require that our programs, activities and services are accessible to individuals with disabilities. These laws require us to provide access to programs and services, to remove barriers to full participation, and to modify policies, practices or procedures as necessary to afford access to all individuals.  Beyond our obligations, the College seeks to provide a welcoming and inviting environment to all who seek to participate in our community.

What Programs Must Be Accessible?

All programs, meetings, exhibits, tours and events, whether held for the College community or open to the public, must consider the access needs of individuals with disabilities, including College-sponsored activities held off campus. In addition, there is also an obligation to ensure accessibility to events that are sponsored by an outside person or organization that is held at a College facility. Agreements for using College facilities should clearly specify which party will assume responsibility for these obligations at the event.

Who is Responsible for Disability Access to an Event?

It is the obligation of the Event Planner to ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Considering accessibility when planning events will benefit the experience of all participants by maximizing the opportunity for all to participate and minimizing the need for last minute adjustments. Examples of accessibility accommodations for events may include: sign-language interpreters, assistive listening devices, closed captioned media, print materials made available in accessible electronic format, or other accommodations if requested in advance by participants. Examples of devices/services that are personal in nature and are therefore not required include, but are not limited to, hearing aids, wheelchairs, and personal assistants. 

Who is Responsible for Expenses Associated with Providing Disability Access?

The costs associated with disability access are considered part of the overall expense of the event. Event Planners should include the expense of any anticipated accommodations as a budget item in the event planning. Most accommodations can be made at little or no cost, such as selecting a wheelchair accessible venue for the event, or requesting a wheelchair accessible bus in advance when providing transportation. Event Planners who believe the cost of the accommodations cannot be supported by the event budget must consult the ADA Coordinator (215-751-8036, Room M2-3) before denying any accommodation requests.

Language on Invitations and Promotional Materials

It is important that Event Planners provide information to potential attendees about how they can request accommodations or inquire about access issues. A brief disability accommodation statement on promotional materials not only provides information, but communicates your desire to be inclusive. The disability accommodation statement should provide an event contact email and phone number. Choose one of the following statements:

If you require an accommodation related to disability to participate in this event, please contact {event organizer’s name} at {phone number and email address} as soon as possible to allow the College to make appropriate arrangements.

Community College of Philadelphia welcomes participants with disabilities. Please contact {event organizer’s name} at {phone number and email address} as early as possible to discuss disability accommodations needed to participate fully in this event.

Contact {event organizer’s name} at {phone number and email address} for information about disability access.

Responding to Requests for Accommodations

When responding to request for accommodations, focus on the access issue and needed accommodation, not on the disability of the participant. When a participant requests an accommodation, respond back as quickly as possible. It may take several communications to work through the details of a particular request. In some circumstances, several options may be available to address an access need. The option preferred by the participant should be given primary consideration. If that option proves difficult to provide or you have a question about whether it is a reasonable accommodation, consult with the College’s ADA Coordinator. 

Addressing the Needs of Your Presenters

It is important to note that not only should you be sensitive to participants’ needs, but you must also address the needs of your presenters. As the Event Planner, you should ask presenters if they have any need for accommodation related to disability, focusing on the access issue in a timely manner and consulting with the College’s ADA Coordinator as necessary.

Choosing a Physically Accessible Location

Schedule your eventin wheelchair accessible buildings and rooms. Conduct an on-site visit to evaluate the facility. Wheelchair access must be available in all portions of the venue that participants will be using, including the speaker’s area. An accessible restroom should be within 200 feet of the event location. 

Survey the location for accessible parking and an accessible path of travel from the parking area. If the event is held in a location with no close available parking, identify a reliable method of transportation that will assist attendees in getting to the event location.

If you must host your meeting in an inaccessible location or one in which access is not easily achievable, communicate the access plan for participants with disabilities in your pre-event publicity. Be sure to include contact information for questions about access to the venue.

Accessible Room Setup

Once an accessible site is selected, the furniture in the room must be arranged so that both participants and presenters can circulate throughout the room and use the amenities safely and independently. Provide ample space for individuals using mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, crutches, etc. Circulation space (including aisles) should be at least 36 inches and preferably 60 inches wide so that passing room is available for people using mobility devices. A six-foot width (72 inches) is recommended whenever feasible.

Pathways of travel should be clear of tripping hazards or protrusions that would compromise the safety of individuals with mobility or vision loss. Additionally, it is important that individuals have access to seating and space where they have an equitable opportunity to benefit from the event activities. This might include some individuals having direct line of sight to the presenter, sign language interpreters, or captioning, other individuals having ready access to exits, and others having access to space in the back where they can stand as needed, etc. Ensure that your meeting space affords you enough flexibility to meet a variety of needs, and have event staff available in each room to adjust the layout as necessary.

Accessible Presentation of Event Content

It is important for you to request that presenters design their program for a diverse audience. If a presentation includes visual content (e.g., PowerPoint presentation, video, or printed charts and graphics), it will be necessary for the presenter to describe essential content so that individuals with vision loss or print-related disabilities have equitable access to the information. Whenever handouts are provided to participants, it is important that they be available in accessible electronic format, preferably in advance of the event if presenters plan to refer to the information during their presentations.  If presenters use media with audio content, it is important that they select captioned media or provide captioning for any media they produce. Additionally, any activities associated with the event should take into consideration individuals with differing physical abilities, ensuring that all individuals are afforded an opportunity to participate in the activities.

Addressing Communication Access Needs

Please recognize that individuals who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing use a variety of methods to communicate with each other and with hearing individuals. Some individuals who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing use sign language to communicate. Others do not communicate using sign language and may prefer to have events captioned by a CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) reporter. Some individuals with hearing loss access auditory information through assistive listening devices. Individuals who request accommodations related to communication should be asked for their preference of communication access, and every attempt should be made to meet that request.

If an event participant requests the services of a sign language interpreter, it is important to do the following:

  • Reserve seating in the front of the room for the attendee and companions
  • Situate sign language interpreters in the front of the room proximate to the speaker and within the sight line of the Deaf attendee.  It is important that both the sign language interpreter and speaker can be viewed simultaneously.
  • Provide an advance copy of the presentation so that the interpreter will be well prepared to interpret any specialized vocabulary, names, etc.
  • Ensure that the sign language interpreter is standing in a lit area, especially if the lighting is dimmed for the presentation.

If an individual requests CART services, it is important to do the following:

  • Ensure that space and seating is available for the captioner and court reporting stenography machine.  
  • Provide technical information, unique vocabulary, names, etc., for the CART provider. In some instances, it would be important for the presenter to provide a script of the presentation for the CART provider to ensure smooth captioning for the participants using the service. 

Individuals who use assistive listening devices, require the presenter to wear a microphone for transmission, while the individual with hearing loss wears a receiver that brings and amplifies target sound in the ear.

In all instances, the presenter should be sensitive to the needs of individuals with various hearing abilities and take time to repeat questions and comments from the audience, so that all participants have full access to communication throughout the event.

Please note that attendees who request accommodations for communication access may be more comfortable communicating with you by email. It is important to be responsive to email requests and inquiries. 

Staff Awareness and Sensitivity

Being aware of and sensitive to the needs of a diverse audience maximizes the Event Planner’s ability to handle unexpected requests. Inclusion by design can alleviate the stress of a last-minute request for accommodation. Generally, while planning your program, envision a welcoming event with diverse participants, some of whom have disabilities. This will enhance the accessibility of your event and translate into a better experience for all participants. Even when we encourage early accommodation requests, the College is obligated to make its best effort to provide last-minute accommodations, if the request is reasonable and can be readily accomplished. Staff awareness and sensitivity are essential to successfully complying with this obligation.

We encourage Event Planners to be conversant with the terms used to convey positive communication with persons with disabilities. Terms such as “wheelchair bound,” “the disabled,” and “handicapped” are examples of outdated terms that present disability in negative terms. More information about tips on respectful communication with and about people with disabilities can be found in the ADA National Network’s Guidelines for Writing About People with Disabilities (

On-site registration

Registration workers should be well-informed about how to provide accommodations and where to obtain services.  Staff should know the answers to common questions such as:

“Where is the accessible restroom and water fountain?”

“When traveling around campus, how do I find accessible paths of travel?” 

During the event

Event staff should be apprised of the general obligation to provide accommodations for people with disabilities.  Staff should be prepared to offer assistance (directions for drop-off, and accessible parking, seating or using the amenities of the building, etc.)

Additional Resources for Planning Accessible Events: 

Accessible Meetings, Events & Conferences (

  • Leila Lawrence, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & Title IX Coordinator, Room M2-3, 215- 751-8036,
  • Wendy Kohler, Director Center for Disability, BG-39C, 215-751-8410,
  • Erica Harrison, Coordinator, Special Events and Community Relations, M2-5, (215) 751-8941, College events)