This resource is about planning and running events that are accessible and inclusive. ‘Events’ in this resource means any activity where people come together that a Making Music member group might run including:
- A rehearsal
- A performance
- A meeting
- A workshop
- A social event
- An online event
In this resource we will be considering the general set-up of any event.
What is an accessible and inclusive event like?
An event that is accessible and inclusive is one where there are no barriers that would stop a person taking part. At an accessible and inclusive event everyone is able to participate equally, confidently and independently, without undue effort or separation.
There are many reasons why someone might experience a barrier, but some people are more likely to be excluded. People with a physical disability, with a mental health condition, from a different ethnicity than most of your community, or with a neurodiversity are some of the people that we need to consider. You may not be able to remove every barrier entirely, but any steps you take to be more accessible and inclusive will benefit someone - sometimes in ways you did not expect.
Designing events to be accessible and inclusive
Whether events are one-off or happen regularly, take some time when designing (or reviewing) events to think about whether everyone who would like to take part will be able to access the event and be equally included. You can do this by:
- Assigning someone (or a group) to lead on access and inclusion. They don’t need to be an expert, but willing to look at your activity with this perspective. It helps if they have lived experience of barriers, for example have impaired mobility or have experienced poverty. But they should also be prepared to take account of other people’s experiences e.g. read about specific disabilities you know are present in your group or find out about and attend access and inclusion training.
- Carry out an access and inclusion assessment of events. Whenever you do a risk assessment, you can also carry out an access and inclusion assessment. If the event is a regular one (such as a rehearsal) then commit to a re-assessment every year. An assessment could be an informal (but minuted) discussion about the nature of the event. You could use this resource as a checklist for your assessment.
- Ask the attendees about barriers. Build in ways of connecting with the people who attend your events so you can ask them about the barriers they might experience and what actions you can take to remove these. You could do this in advance of someone attending for the first time – e.g. on a ticket booking web page or membership application form. Or for regular attendees you can survey them annually or make sure they have an opportunity to talk to or email your access and inclusion lead. There are more suggestions on how to do this in this resource below.
Organising an accessible and inclusive event
This is a guide to some of the actions you can take to address the physical, practical and cultural barriers common to the events that music groups organise. The people who may experience these barriers include those with hearing and visual impairments, who use mobility aids, with neurological and physical health conditions, with neurodiversities and those experiencing a language barrier.
If you take these actions to address common barriers, your event will be more inclusive of more people. However, remember to offer ways that people can report any specific barriers they experience to inclusion, as they are expert in their own experience and can offer the best solutions.
Most Making Music member groups don’t operate their own venue, so considering which venue you let or use is the control you have over this aspect of access and inclusion. It may be that there are few options in your community so if the available venues are less than suitable, raise this with the venue owner.
Consider how people will get to the venue.
- Is it easy to find and well signposted?
- Will people feel safe arriving and leaving in the dark (if they need to)?
- Is it accessible by public transport?
- Does the service run during the times your event is being held?
- Is there car parking, including disabled parking? Can spaces be reserved?
- Are any barriers or ‘pay and display’ machines easy to operate with clear instructions?
- Does the venue provide maps and travel information on their website?
Consider how people will get into and around the venue.
- Are the routes from the car park suitable for people who use wheelchairs and mobility aids? Paths should be well maintained with have a firm surface, be wide enough, not too steep, with dropped kerbs.
- Are the routes from public transport suitable for people who use wheelchairs and mobility aids?
- Are suitable ramps provided to overcome any steps? Do you need to request that ramps be put out for people ready for their arrival?
- If access is required to different floors, is there a suitable accessible lift with voice announcements and emergency alarms?
- How many doors do people need to go through to get to the room you are using and are they automated or easy to open?
- Is there clear signage to the different areas, including exits and toilets?
Consider the venue’s facilities.
- Are accessible toilet facilities available for disabled people and large enough for wheelchairs to turn around inside, with a working emergency alarm installed? Is it kept clear and available for use at all times?
- Are there gender neutral toilets or a toilet that could be designated as gender neutral?
- Do you need a venue with a an accessible toilet? You may be running a large event open to the public or know there is someone attending who needs one. See Changing Places Toilets (changing-places.org)
- Is there an additional room or area that could be used as a quiet space for people who need time away from the main event/space for prayer/to breastfeed etc? Is it close to the main space and easy to access?
- Is there easy access to drinking water?
- Is there a range of different seating available e.g. chairs with and without arm rests?
Audio and visual considerations
- Are the acoustics of the room you are using challenging? Is there a lot of echo, background noise (perhaps from air conditioning or heaters) or ‘bleed’ from neighbouring rooms?
- Does the venue have a hearing loop (audio induction loop) that you could make use of?
- Can the lighting be adjusted? Is it bright enough for people to read? Can any direct light be adjusted away from people (including from windows)?
- Is signage easy to read; large print with letters in a contrasting colour and in a plain font? (link to Inclusive Comms resource)
Consider if everyone will feel welcome in the venue
- Is the venue a community space e.g. is it regularly used by all members of your community? If it is also a school/community centre/village hall, then people are likely to already feel welcome there.
- Do the owners of the venue display or hold religious or political views that are exclusive of or oppressive to certain groups of people? This is not a welcoming venue for everyone.
Take action to make access to and around the venue easier:
- Provide maps and travel information – either in links to the venues website or by creating your own.
- Offer to meet people at the car park or entrance to guide them into the space, or always post someone at the entrance to do this.
- Bring your own signage to stick or stand up to guide people around. This could include a pull up banner beside the door of your event, or signs directing people to a breakout space.
- Provide amplification for presenters. A portable PA system or wearable voice amplifier could be purchased or hired.
- Consider hiring an extra room to keep numbers in groups lower or to provide a quiet space.
- If your event has a cost to attend, consider this carefully to keep the activity affordable for the most amount of people.
- Provide options for people to pay less – than the standard cost. Providing the option to pay in instalments is helpful.
- Give guidance on what defines a concessionary rate rather than insisting on evidence. If you use a sliding scale, it should be based on people’s ability to pay rather than any other characteristic e.g. a retired person may still have a reasonable income, but a salaried person with considerable outgoings and a role as a carer may find themselves struggling to pay for leisure activities.
- People should be able to select the price they pay for themselves, or to discuss this in confidence with one person. This information should only be shared confidentially; avoid having the rate printed on a ticket/registration sheet etc.
- Provide a variety of ways that people can buy tickets or membership. Online ticketing is accessible for most people but also provide an option to carry out transactions in person for people who experience digital exclusion.
- When people require a carer or companion to accompany them to an event, provide this ticket for free. This could include free membership for companions. It should be possible for the carer or companion to change regularly.
Our resource on recruiting and welcoming people has more detail on this.
- Set the time and day of your event to suit the most amount of people by consulting them wherever possible. Surveying attendees of regular activity (rehearsals, programme of concerts) is useful as people’s circumstances change. Online polls such as Doodle are good for one off events - just keep the options limited.
- Check the date of a key event doesn’t coincide with any major religious festivals or holidays.
- Consider the length of events. A long rehearsal, meeting or performance may be exclusive for a variety of reasons, so consider whether the benefits of these outweigh the inconveniences.
- Set the schedule during the event to allow for regular and reasonable comfort breaks. Always include at least 20 minutes contingency time per three hours, to allow extra time for explanations, questions and interpretation. Publish the timings in advance, including performances.
- Control the schedule carefully. People may rely on medication, food or support needs at certain times, so if events (or sections) run over, this can cause problems and distress. Don’t shorten comfort breaks if you are running short of time.
- Ask support staff about their break needs before the start e.g. if there are two BSL interpreters they will rotate every 20 minutes or so.
- If there is only one accessible toilet and several people who require it are attending, extra time may be needed for breaks.
If you are planning a large event in which you would like to include a wide range of people, you should plan to offer communication support. This could be:
- Language interpreters - for events where attendees are likely to speak a language other than English as their primary language.
- BSL interpreters - for events with Deaf attenders whose primary language is British Sign Language.
- Live captions / surtitles - for events where people would benefit from being able to read any spoken language (as they would subtitles/live captions on screen)
You can find links to organisations who can assist you in accessing these services in our Useful Links resource. Be aware that these services are costly, so plan for this well in advance of your event and do not offer these services if you will not be able to cover the cost or employ the staff/businesses you will need.
At the start of your event, one or more people should be assigned to assessing whether the space is accessible. Here’s a checklist:
- Check the route to the event space from the main entrance: Are lifts working, entry routes clear, is signage clear?
- Will attendees be able to easily find the event? Check the venue’s signage, use a pull up banner, put up temporary signs, brief the venue staff. If the route is complicated, ask a volunteer to wait at the entrance.
- Check the routes to the toilets, including accessible toilets. Is the signage clear, including the symbols for male/female/gender neutral toilets? Use temporary signage if necessary.
- Make sure the furniture layout allows suitable circulation for everyone, particularly people using wheelchairs and mobility aids. Reduce any furniture clutter and keep routes around the room clear.
- Reserve seats at the front of the room for anyone with visual or hearing impairments, larger spaces for people with assistance dogs and wheelchair users, seats together for people attending with support assistants/ carers.
- If you expect people to write anything down: a minimum 700mm under table height is recommended for people using wheelchairs, or you could provide a lap tray.
- If possible, put out a mix of seating styles e.g. with and without arm supports, with back supports.
- Turn the lights on. If they need to be dimmed during a presentation, put them back on when the presentation is over.
- Make sure that leaders and presenters are lit from the front and do not have light directly behind them.
- Assess the temperature of the room. Speak to the venue if the room is too hot or cold and make any adjustments that you are allowed to (open windows, turn on heaters).
- Identify a quiet area or room where people can go if they need to.
- Ensure hearing enhancement technology is turned on if available and required.
- Assistance dogs – put out a water bowl for assistance dogs, and know arrangements for dog relief areas nearby.
Welcoming people and making sure they have all the information they need before an event starts is crucial so they feel safe, relaxed and included.
- Allow people arriving early to come in and sit, even if the event is not ready.
- Assign at least one person to welcome people at the door. If you are using a register, use this as an opportunity to check the pronunciation of anyone whose name you don’t know and how they would like to be addressed.
- Name badges or labels can be very helpful, depending on the style of the event. They can be used to identify people in key roles – musical director, section leader, access support volunteer etc. Not everyone can manage a clip or pin, so have different options for display - stickers, lanyards and table signs are easier.
- Let anyone who has identified an accessibility requirement in advance know how you have dealt with it e.g. dietary requirement, hearing enhancement technology etc. Identify power points for anyone who needs to plug in equipment.
- Show anyone with particular seating requirements where you have reserved a space for them.
- Introduction - at the start of the event, talk through the schedule including comfort breaks.
- Make it clear that people can come and go as they need. Don’t draw attention to anyone leaving and quickly welcome people arriving late without undue attention.
- Give clear directions for toilets including the accessible provision, signage, any hazards on the way. Also for quiet space, water points and any other comfort facilities.
- Ensure any instruction for emergency evacuation includes information for people requiring assistance (provided by the venue) e.g. location of refuge/temporary waiting space
- Introduce people in key roles - leaders, presenters, volunteers - by full name and role and ask them to stand and/or say hello so they can be identified.
- If a person attending has agreed that you can speak to the group about inclusive behaviour, do this in your introduction, e.g ‘Helen has a hearing impairment so if you are talking to the group, can you make sure you are facing her?’
If you are talking to a group, either a full audience or a small room, you should consider adapting your communication style to be more inclusive. This covers not just your musical director or chair but anyone who has this responsibility, from announcing a raffle prize to reporting at a meeting.
- Face your audience. Try not to block your mouth e.g. by putting your hands on your face, eating or blowing your nose while talking.
- Speak at your usual speed or slower e.g. if you have a strong accent or your normal pace is very fast, speaking more slowly will help everyone.
- Do not raise your voice considerably or over-enunciate, as this distorts the sound and affects your lip pattern, making it harder for people with a hearing impairment.
- Limit visual distractions for people who lip-read: be aware that dangling earrings, patterned ties, moustaches and glossy lipstick can make lip-reading more difficult.
- When you begin speaking, check people can hear you and ask them to indicate if you need to slow down or repeat something.
- Use simple and straightforward language. Make instructions clear and repeat them. Don’t use acronyms without explanation and explain key terms at the start or when first mentioned. Avoid rhetorical questions, metaphors and colloquialisms.
- Practice using neutral language to identify people and groups e.g.
’Good evening everyone’ (rather than ladies and gentlemen/boys and girls)
‘Can the sopranos and altos be here at 6pm’ (rather than women/girls)
‘Anyone who needs to can stay seated’ (rather than ‘The elderly members can sit down’)
- Don’t assume shared cultural knowledge; people may not understand your cultural references so explain these if you do use them. Avoid describing something in reference to something else e.g. ‘It should sound like the start of (another piece of music)’
Our resource on inclusive communications gives guidance on how to prepare written papers and digital documents, including presentation slides. Our resource on access to Music Making covers sheet music. This is a guide to general use of paper documents, projected presentations and other written material at an event.
- Any paper handouts you provide – including programmes, information sheets, song lyrics should also be provided in alternative formats. The most straightforward way of doing this is by providing access to an accessible digital document (see our Inclusive Communications). People can then make any adjustments they require themselves, including increasing the print size, using a screen reader or using a translation tool.
- Attach digital documents to an email sent out in advance, post them on your website or provide a link to them on your ticketing and social media sites. You should do this in a reasonable amount of time before the event and let attendees know that these are available.
- Have the links to digital documents at hand at the event. A leader or volunteer could have links on a phone and message them to anyone who requires them. You could provide a printed QR code at the door that people could scan to link to the documents.
- Also ask people in advance if they require printed copies, large print or translated versions of handouts and prepare these for their arrival. You may know which versions are regularly asked for at your events and can prepare these.
- When a handout is given out or referred to, briefly summarise verbally what the handout covers.
- When presenting projected slides - stick to the slide content and don’t add in any important information verbally that is not on a slide. Read aloud all the key points on the slide.
- Explain technical or other key terms at the start or when first mentioned. Explain any maps, charts or plans and what their relevance is to the point you are making.
- Describe photographs or images that form a key part of the presentation. For example, logos do not need to be described but an image that is used to illustrate the main point made on that slide should be.
There are many events where those attending are invited to join in a conversation or discussion - meetings, workshops, and some rehearsals. It is important that everyone’s contributions are heard and valued so they feel included.
- Signify that you are listening to someone by facing them. Don’t interrupt.
- In group discussions – a facilitator should balance contributions and encourage everyone to have their say. Some participants may need a specific invitation to feel comfortable to speak out. Other participants may dominate the conversation; consider ways of politely ensuring they give way to others.
- In a large room, use a roving microphone if one is available. The leader/ chair/ facilitator can repeat questions and sum up points made from the floor for clarity.
- Avoid any activity that involves everyone writing. Enable group working and ask for volunteers to take notes which can be shared later. Allow people to complete forms at home or online.
- Give options for feeding back or asking questions after the event, for those who have not been heard.
Breaks are crucial times for people to take care of their needs, including eating and drinking. Protect these times and make sure they happen when and how they have been publicised.
- Signify a break clearly. You can announce this, hold up a sign or include a slide in a presentation. Make it clear how long the break will be for and what time it will end.
- Remind people of directions to the toilets, water points, quiet space and exits.
- Essential tasks should not take place in breaks e.g. don’t make the break the only time you can sign up for a trip.
- If eating and drinking is a regular part of your events or will be a big part of a one-off event, find out about specific dietary requirements. Survey members enough in advance. You can ask the simple question ‘Do you have any dietary requirements’ or use a tick box survey, including the options you will be able to offer e.g.
- Dairy free
- Gluten free
- Sugar free
- Halal / Kosher (other religious diets)
- Sign or draw everyone’s attention to any food for people with dietary requirements to ensure those who require it receive it.
- Where you are offering refreshments to a large group of the general public, have these simple adaptions available:
- Dairy free / vegan
- Gluten free
- Keep the packets of food handy for any questions on allergies.
- Choose food that can be eaten with one hand. Provide paper straws for cold drinks.
- Assign volunteers to assist where needed – to lift heavy jugs, pour hot water, open any food in packaging, provide information about dietary requirements.
- Make a clear announcement that a break is about to end, using signs or slides if useful. Do not draw attention to anyone who arrives late after a break has ended.
Maybe you’re using a venue for the first time, or you’re preparing to welcome people or a group you don’t know. Have a few items in a bag to make instant adaptations.
- Materials to make temporary instructions and signs – card, large black marker pens, Blu Tack
- Stickers for name tags
- Paper cups for drinking water
- Paper drinking straws
- Tissues and sanitary goods
- Water bowl for assistance dogs
- A lap tray (if a table isn’t accessible)
- Information on local public transport
- Telephone numbers for taxis
This Making Music guidance was produced with reference to this guide on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.