March 2nd, 2016
Guest bloggers Vicky Carmichael and Ruth Yarnit are part of the White October Events team that co-organises AngularConnect. If you’re planning an Angular meetup or conference, you might find this post helpful in increasing the reach of your event. Enjoy! – Naomi
As an event organiser, you want your attendees to have an amazing time. You put a lot of thought into the content, the venue and the atmosphere – and these are all important – but your natural and unconscious biases may make it easy to forget about how your experience of an event differs from someone else’s.
There are lots of reasons an attendee may require additional support to ensure they have a great time at your event. Perhaps they have a disability or health condition that means they require special assistance to be able to access the event and enjoy it fully. Maybe they come from an underrepresented group within tech, and are experiencing a sense of isolation. Or they may be new to the industry and feel a little intimidated to be surrounded by more experienced developers.
This post outlines some of the measures the AngularConnect team are taking to improve accessibility at their conference, and offers some handy pointers for how you can implement these measures at your own Angular events. This is by no means an exhaustive list – we know there’s always more we could do. Please feel free to email us at email@example.com if you have any comments or other ideas.
Code of Conduct
Having a Code of Conduct at your event demonstrates your commitment to ensuring all participants feel welcome, safe and comfortable without threat of intimidation or public embarrassment. Here are some tips if you’re implementing one for the first time:
- Start with a template, and adapt it for your specific industry and event. Check out Angular’s Code of Conduct, which applies to all of the projects under the Angular organisation on GitHub and the Angular community at large, including IRC, mailing lists, and on social media.
- Be sure to list specific examples of behaviours that constitute a violation of the code. For instance, the AngularConnect code includes the line: “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.” This makes it easier to identify offending behaviour as it happens.
- Include clear instructions for what someone should do if they wish to report a violation of the Code of Conduct, and make sure all event staff are fully briefed on how to respond to such a report. AngularConnect staff wear brightly coloured t-shirts with the word “staff” or “organiser” on the back, so that they can be easily identified from afar by anyone needing assistance. Also provide details about how you will enforce your Code of Conduct.
- Make everyone aware of the Code of Conduct. Link to it clearly on your event website, and announce it on the day(s). We include a mention of the AngularConnect Code of Conduct at the bottom of every marketing email we send. This year we also plan to display large signs at the event reminding people where the code can be found, and how to report a violation. Make it clear that you expect all delegates, speakers, organisers and staff to comply with the code at all times and in all event spaces.
- Finally, don’t just pay lip service to your Code of Conduct. As event organisers, it’s our responsibility to use our judgement and take swift and appropriate action in the event of a violation of the Code of Conduct, and to send a clear message to our attendees.
Making your event as accessible as reasonably possible will help ensure you’re not inadvertently excluding anyone from attending. People you should consider include wheelchair users and those with mobility impairments, people who are hard of hearing or deaf, people with visual impairments, and people with hidden impairments such as learning disabilities or mental health issues. Here are some measures you can take:
- On your event sign up form, include a checkbox for attendees to let you know if they have any special access requirements, and a field for them to provide further information. Make sure you check the feedback in plenty of time to make any necessary arrangements at the venue, and reach out to the attendee directly if you need more information to be able to accommodate their needs.
- When selecting a venue for your event, check that it’s fully wheelchair accessible. Consider whether it has step-free access, doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, elevator access to relevant floors, and dedicated accessible toilet facilities.
- Have reserved seating at the front of the space for people with disabilities, such as wheelchair users and people with visual impairments to use, if they wish to.
- Enquire whether the venue has hearing induction loops installed in the relevant spaces and, if it doesn’t, think about hiring them in. The venue may be able to put you in touch with a supplier. At AngularConnect we’re installing a hearing loop in both of the main track spaces for use by people with hearing aids.
- Consider providing real-time captioning for talks. You can choose how to display this, but make sure captions are clearly visible to all participants. This is something we’re excited to provide at AngularConnect this year, and we’ve selected a service that provides attendees with a link that can be viewed and customised in the browser on their personal device. This service is not only helpful for people who are hard of hearing, but also those for whom English is not their first language, and anyone who finds it easier to take something in when they see it written down.
- Make it clear to people considering attending that service animals such as guide dogs are welcome at the event, and offer to provide complimentary tickets to assistants of those with disabilities.
- Invite participants to contact you with any access requirements they’d like to discuss, and commit to doing your best to accommodate them. If you need time to check whether you’re able to provide the assistance they need, you could offer to reserve their ticket in the meantime so that they don’t risk missing out.
- A full-day (or longer) event surrounded by crowds can be overwhelming for some people. If you’re running a conference for an audience of hundreds, you may wish to create a comfortable “quiet zone” for those who need to take a breather. At AngularConnect last year we had ran mindfulness sessions in our chill out area for those who need a peaceful moment’s reflection. We got positive feedback about this and we’re looking forward to bringing the sessions back this year.
If you’ll be serving breakfast, lunch or dinner, you should offer at least one vegetarian option available as standard. You can aim to cater for more specific requirements (such as gluten free, allergies, Kosher, Halal, vegan etc.) with advance notice. Ask all attendees to let you know about any special dietary requirements at the point of registration. Be sure to label major allergens such as gluten or nuts on food packaging where possible.
For paid events, you may wish to make extra efforts to open up your event to people who don’t have access to the funds to buy a ticket. One method for doing this is to run a Scholarship scheme where you set aside a number of free tickets to give away to individuals from underrepresented groups in tech or those facing economic and social hardship. If you have the budget, you could also consider covering their travel and accommodation expenses. Some sponsors may be willing to support a scheme like this financially.
To get set up, design a basic online form to capture applicants’ information, such as their name, contact details, location, and their reason for applying to the Scholarship Scheme. Have a look at the AngularConnect Scholarship Fund form for inspiration. Be sure to link to the form on your site and tickets page, shout about it on social media, and reach out directly to groups working with relevant individuals to ask if they’ll help spread the word. Include clear details about who should apply, how the process works, any deadlines, and how and when you will notify them of the outcome.
There’s no exact science to evaluating the applications, but it’s best done by a small committee rather than by just one person. You should aim to award tickets to people who would otherwise not be able to attend, and who can show how the knowledge they gain at the event will be useful to them in their ongoing career.
There’s an awful lot to think about when organising a conference or meetup. As a team, we try to be mindful of accessibility at all stages of planning AngularConnect, but we know there are always more improvements we can make. We hope this post has provided some food for thought for other event organisers, and we’d love to chat with you if you have comments or ideas for additional ways to make events accessible. Catch us on on Twitter at @AngularConnect, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.