Accessibility is often misunderstood as being either all encompassing, or just the provision of ramps. Accessibility is indeed far reaching and does encompass a wide range of issues (e.g. accessible toilet specifications; hearing aid loop systems; appropriate room temperature), but the phrase “fully accessible for all” is a bit of misnomer. It’s impossible to create an environment whereby facilitators can accommodate everyone’s potential needs. People could have requirements that may be very obscure, completely impractical or that would fundamentally change the nature of the service. This is why disability rights campaigners have spent a considerable amount of time working alongside politicians and architects to produce workable guidance and legislation around accessibility.
Drawing on my own knowledge and available resources, I have recently produced two basic guides for DM around accessibility. One document focuses on the practical aspects of accessibility in terms of venues, the other focuses on inclusive workshop design and delivery.
In this blog I will address a few of the issues facilitators should consider when planning an accessible workshop. The most import aspect of ensuring the design and delivery of a workshop is inclusive is the facilitator’s ability to anticipate, identify and respond to potential disabling barriers. All of us, regardless of whether we have an impairment or not, learn and communicate in lots of different ways. However, it is common for facilitators to plan workshops based on their own personal learning style. Therefore, in order to incorporate a range of learning needs facilitators should teach the way that students learn as opposed to expecting them to learn the way we teach. Taking into account the seven learning styles is a good place to start.
Communication between facilitators is also very important to help avoid repetitive activities. Repeating an activity, or using the same format, is not only rather dull but can also create a continual barrier for particular participants.
It is helpful to offer participants a range of ways that they can respond – for example writing or drawing or audio recording may all be appropriate methods for achieving the same outcome whilst at the same time opening up access possibilities. On a personal note, writing can be a barrier for me, however, this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy or want to participate in activities that involve writing but simply that I would appreciate consideration from the facilitator about how these can be adapted to make them more inclusive. For example, written tasks can be done in pairs or small groups with one volunteer designated as the writer or could also be completed using technology, such as an i-pad.
There are lots of ways in which you can help people to feel involved – simple things like taking a show of hands may allow less confident individuals the opportunity to contribute to an exercise without being put on the spot. A good facilitator should be responsive to the context in which they are working and the needs of individual participants. Having an open, friendly approach to identifying barriers during a meeting, event or workshop is key, as well as preparation via email beforehand. A sense of easy communication will encourage people to share any access ‘blips’ before they become insurmountable problems. It is therefore a good idea to get into the habit of asking if anyone has any specific access requirements, and being creative about how people can contribute and express ideas.
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“There are lots of ways in which you can help people to feel involved – simple things like taking a show of hands may allow less confident individuals the opportunity to contribute to an exercise without being put on the spot. A good facilitator should be responsive to the context in which they are working and the needs of individual participants”