How to Make Food Functions More Accessible to People With Disabilities

If you're like most meeting planners, you want all attendees to feel welcome at your events. If you look closely, however, you might just realize that they don't.

"You've just arrived at the hotel for your company's sales meeting. It's your first time attending since your accident, so you're excited to be here. You see people you know and make plans to join them at the opening reception," says Meeting Professionals International (MPI) blogger Tracy Stuckrath, imagining the plight of a physically disabled attendee. "When you arrive at the reception, you see it's on the beach except for the narrow ramp overlooking the event. Access to the buffets, seating and your colleagues is impossible … It only took 15 minutes of looking at the event from afar for you to leave feeling left out, overlooked, unappreciated and hungry."

If you want to avoid making disabled attendees feel this way at your meetings, there are many things you can do, according to Stuckrath.

Of course, you should start by looking for a wheelchair-accessible venue. Less obvious, however, are the smaller details. For example, design elements like tables and chairs.

"Be mindful of table height and width for seating and buffets as well as the difficulties a buffet or two-hand reception food may present someone using crutches, a cane or wheelchair. Ensure staff are on hand to offer help," advises Stuckrath, who says you also should be mindful of event scheduling. "Overcrowding event spaces may limit the ability of those with mobility devices to easily move through the space and/or find seating. Provide early access for those needing assistance or additional time to sit."

Even linens are important. "Avoid tie-back long tablecloths and skirting that can impede mobility device users if they get caught under wheels," concludes Stuckrath, who says meeting planners have "legal, ethical and financial obligations to design event experiences that can be equally enjoyed by all."

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