How to make meetings inclusive for wheelchair users

Previously I have posted top tips for wheelchair users about networking. Unless you’re in a familiar setting, meetings can be difficult (at times) for wheelchair users, whether that’s getting there, getting into the building, knowing where to go – never mind the actual meeting. It’s important to make your meeting space as accessible as possible in order to have everyone be able to take part. So in this blog I thought I’d give some top tips on making your meetings as inclusive as possible for wheelchair users.

Ask before

Something that I advise to anyone I speak to, is start making reasonable adjustments the ‘norm’. So no matter whether your attendees are wheelchair users, disabled or non-disabled, adding the question to the end of your email “please let me know if you require any access adjustments for this meeting”. This therefore sets the tone that anyone can ask for adjustments they need.

Accessibility can vary with different people

Sometimes we can assume something is accessible when it may actually not be. This may be because another colleague managed something in a similar setting, or there may not seem to be any barriers. However, it’s important to know to “expect the unexpected”. Learn from others – what may be access to one, may not be for another. For example, in the past I have been presented with a platform lift to certain meetings. I know that my chair is too heavy for a lot of platform lifts – therefore this may be a solution for most – but not for all.

Note down these adjustments

If you’re going to be having regular meetings, it is good practice to keep these adjustments noted. Therefore the attendees don’t have to keep stating this and can therefore focus on the meeting coming up.

Book a room with a nearby accessible loo

Now, we’ve all been there – sometimes if it’s a 2-3 hour meeting, we may need to use the restroom. It is therefore important to know and note where the accessible toilet is. The closer this is, the better – as sometimes it can take more time getting to the loo than actually using it!

Create a space near the exit

A wheelchair user will probably want to sit somewhere close to the door, or have an easy route to the door. I’ve been to meetings before where I’ve weaved through chairs and the room has quickly filled. Sometimes personally, I would think “there’s no way of getting our here quickly!” so sitting near the door gives the wheelchair user freedom to move when needed.

Allow time to arrive

Talking of freedom to move. It is well known that accessible routes can also mean going the long way around. Therefore it’s good to note this and allow time for attendees to arrive. I know I’ve often been flustered, going the long way to a meeting, knowing I’m going to be late. Colleagues understanding this and taking it into account, makes you feel at ease and raring to go.

Don’t fuss

And finally… The prep before is important – this means that you don’t have to ask any questions (or less) in the meeting. As a wheelchair user, it’s common that people can fuss over you and panic. If you’ve done the above steps, there’s absolutely no need for this. Drawing a lot of attention to someone can not only be embarrassing, but make you feel like you’re ‘different’ in some way – this can also ultimately affect the way you participate in the meeting too. So don’t worry! If you’re really concerned about something, just let the attendees know that you are there if they have any concerns.

Completing the above steps means that your wheelchair using colleagues can relax and do their job – and you can carry on with yours too!

There are a lot more I could note – but these are the ones that spring to mind. Are you a wheelchair user that could add something? Let me know!

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