How to Plan an Accessible Event

August 16, 2018

Why Plan an Accessible Event?

It’s the right thing to do! You may decide to plan an accessible event for a number of different reasons, whether related to business or compliance. But ultimately, it comes down to human rights. Events should be inclusive, and designed so that people of all abilities, genders and races can enjoy their experience equally. We should strive to make Canadian events more enjoyable for everyone.

Of course, we can also make a business case for planning an accessible event. Improving accessibility can help increase attendance by attracting new customers to your event. Consider this: the estimated buying power of Canadians with disabilities is CAD$55.4 billion. Add in friends and family of persons with disabilities, and that number swells to CAD$366.5 billion. Can you afford to ignore this growing market?

Finally, you may be legally required to meet certain accessibility standards. Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia all have comprehensive accessibility laws. Other provinces – like British Columbia – have committed to following suit. Furthermore, the federal government is working to pass Bill C-81, the “Accessible Canada Act”, intended to help create a barrier-free Canada. Bill C-81 was tabled this past June.

Canadians with Disabilities – By the Numbers

Canadians with disabilities represent a growing percentage of the population. According to the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD), one in seven Canadians over the age of 15 reported having a disability that created limitations. That’s 14% of the Canadian population, or approximately 3.8 million people.

The same survey found that disabilities related to pain, flexibility and mobility were the most common, with just over 3 million people reporting at least one of these disabilities. It’s worth noting that mental health-related, dexterity, and hearing disabilities were the next most commonly reported.

Some people with disabilities use specialized aids and devices to perform routine activities and support their participation in social settings. In fact, more than 80% of people with disabilities report using at least one such device. This is something to keep in mind as you set out to plan your event.

Tips to Plan an Accessible Event

We’ve compiled tips and guidelines from several reputable resources, primarily the AccessON Guide to Accessible Festivals and Outdoor Events. You’ll find links to these resources throughout this post, and at the conclusion. In addition to provincial accessibility standards, you may also be subject to municipal requirements for temporary structures and special events. This is not intended to address those requirements; it is simply a guideline for planning an accessible event.

The key to making your event inclusive and accessible is to try and imagine the many barriers that people with disabilities might encounter during their experience. Put yourself in their shoes, and address those issues during the planning stage. Here are some of the areas you should consider:

Accessible Parking

Inviting people with disabilities to attend your event means providing accessible parking. When planning your event parking, create accessible spaces as close as possible to the nearest accessible venue entrances and exits. Also consider the distance to pay stations (if necessary), any lifts or ramps for guests using mobility devices, and accessible washrooms or portable toilets

You may already have a legal obligation regarding the number of accessible parking spots, but even if you don’t, you can use the Design of Public Spaces Standard (DOPS) under the AODA as a guideline to determine how many accessible parking spaces you should have:

 Total Number of Parking Spaces Number of Accessible Parking Spaces
 <12 1
 13 – 100 4% (round up to nearest whole number)
 101 – 200 3% (round up to nearest whole number) + 1
 201 – 1,000 2% (round up to nearest whole number) + 2
 >1,000 1% (round up to nearest whole number) + 11

If you provide a shuttle service from remote parking areas or transit stations to the event site, make sure it is accessible.

Public Transit

If you are already posting general transportation information on your website, consider providing details about accessible public transit, as well. Include information like schedules for accessible transit options, and whether the nearest subway or train stations have accessible elevators.

Paths of Travel

Plan to have accessible paths linking event attractions and essential services. These would include ticket stations, restrooms and food service areas, to name a few. Consider buying or renting temporary outdoor flooring to create flat, firm, and stable paths on uneven surfaces like sand and grass. Make sure that routes are clear of any obstacles so that at least a one-metre wide path of travel exists for people using wheelchairs or walkers.

Electrical wires running across pathways create a tripping hazard for all attendees. They are also an obstacle for wheeled equipment, so keep them away from paths of travel. If that’s not possible, use cable protectors that are wheelchair accessible. Purchase or rent cable protectors that are brightly coloured or high-contrast for people with impaired vision.

Ensure gates, exits, and entrances are wide enough to accommodate mobility devices, such as wheelchairs and scooters. Make sure that a ramp or elevator is available wherever paths of travel include stairs, such as venue entrances.

Finally, if a footpath runs alongside a line of temporary event fence, we recommend installing safety ramps on the fence bases to provide a smooth transition for wheeled equipment.

Stages and Seating

Consider buying or renting a ramp to provide stage access for people who use mobility devices. When planning seating, think about creating or reserving areas with enough room for mobility devices. These areas will need to allow guests to have a view of the stage from a seated position. They should also include seating and extra space for friends, family, support workers and service animals. Service animals should have enough room to rest in front of or under the seats

If your event programming has your attendees mostly standing, you may want to provide seating for those who can’t stand for long periods of time. You might even consider offering seating wherever long line-ups are likely to occur.

Food Services and Eating Areas

Event participants should be able to easily reach food services using an accessible path, and food service booths should be designed so that a person in a wheelchair can reach the counter. Similarly, utensils, napkins, and condiments should be placed within reach of persons using mobility devices. If you offer menus, consider having large print copies available for people who have low vision.

It’s good practice for at least 20% of the tables in your eating area to be accessible for someone with a mobility aid. At a minimum, you should plan to provide at least one accessible table in each eating area.

Keep in mind that mobility devices come in all shapes and sizes. You can help to accommodate guests of all abilities by providing tables in a variety of different heights and dimensions. Ensure the terrain around your accessible tables is flat, firm and stable to allow for wheeled equipment.

Finally, consider having volunteers available to offer assistance or seated service to guests with disabilities.

Washrooms and Temporary Toilets

It goes without saying that restroom facilities are an absolute necessity for festival goers. Don’t overlook persons with disabilities. Provide accessible washrooms and temporary toilets at ground level, and preferably away from crowds, sound systems and other obstructions. At the same time, accessible restroom facilities shouldn’t be too far from the main event space. They should not be inconvenient for guests with disabilities to reach.

Accessible restrooms should have enough space to accommodate a wheelchair or walker wherever the toilet is located. Ensure that there are grab bars near the toilet, and that a person using a wheelchair can reach the sink, soap dispenser, and paper towels.

Rest Areas

If your programming is longer than a few hours and attracts large crowds, consider designating a quiet space for rest. This can be helpful for individuals with a variety of disabilities, such as people with mental health, sensory, or fatigue. Nursing mothers will also surely appreciate having a quiet rest area.

Of course, if these areas are to include any tables, make sure that some of them can accommodate mobility devices.

Maps, Signs, and Information

Your brochures, websites, ads and maps should provide details about your accessibility features. This information could include the availability of accessible toilets, viewing areas, and performances, as well as the location of accessible parking spaces.

Make emergency and safety information for the event, like maps, evacuation plans, brochures or signs, accessible for attendees with disabilities. Before your festival, check whether there is anything that would make these items hard to read, see, hear or understand for a person with a disability, then make the necessary adjustments.

Signs should indicate the accessibility features located along paths of travel and event areas. Think about implementing signs at different heights to accommodate those who may be viewing signage from a lower vantage point, such as a wheelchair.

Use a large, easy-to-read font with good colour contrast – for example, a sans serif font printed in black on a white background – for your signage. Consider combining symbols with type rather than using type alone to help emphasize your message. This is especially useful if the signs will be seen by viewers while they are in motion (whether walking or driving). Symbols are also easier to recall for people with certain developmental disabilities.

Support Persons

Some of your attendees with disabilities may require the assistance of a support person. A support person must be allowed to follow wherever the person they support goes. Consider reducing or waiving the entry fee for support persons, so that attendance is not cost-prohibitive for guests with disabilities. If you choose to discount or waive the entry fee, post this information on your website, at ticketing locations, and at the gate.

Support Animals

Service animals don’t just include guide dogs for the visually impaired. There are various types of service animals that support people with various types of disabilities, such as epilepsy, anxiety disorder and autism. An animal is considered a service animal if it wears a harness, vest, or other visual indicator, and if the person with a disability can provide documentation from a regulated health official. Guests with disabilities and their service animals should be allowed to access all areas that other attendees would normally be able to go.

Consider providing water for service animals in rest areas. Though the burden of their care falls to the person with a disability, this will make your guest with a service animal feel welcome at your event.


You may or may not be subject to provincial requirements around training your employees to service customers with disabilities. Either way, it’s a good idea to train staff and volunteers on how to communicate with people with differing levels of ability. Your employees should be knowledgeable about your accessibility features, evacuation procedures for people with disabilities, and how guests can give feedback about the event’s accessibility.

Guidelines provided by the province of Ontario suggest that the following principles be reflected in your customer service policies:

  • Dignity – provide service in a way that allows the person with a disability to maintain self-respect and the respect of other people
  • Independence – a person with a disability is allowed to do things on their own without unnecessary help or interference from others
  • Integration – provide service in a way that allows the person with a disability to benefit from the same services, in the same place, and in the same or similar way as other customers, unless a different way is necessary to enable them to access goods, services or facilities
  • Equal opportunity – provide service to a person with a disability in such a way that they have an equal opportunity to access your goods, services or facilities as what is given to others

Teach your volunteers not to make assumptions about what a person with a disability can or cannot do. If an employee is uncertain how to assist a guest with a disability, they should simply ask, “How may I help you?”

Promotion and Feedback

While conducting any pre-festival planning, remember to ask what accessibility features people would like. Be transparent about your goal to plan an accessible event. If possible, provide contact information so that guests with disabilities can learn about planned accessibility features. Invite them to let you know what accommodations you can make so that they can participate.

You can gauge how successful your accessibility features are by asking your attendees for feedback during and after the event. Make sure you have more than one way to collect feedback in order to accommodate persons with different disabilities. For instance, a guest with low vision may prefer to provide their comments over the phone instead of filling out a paper form.

If you already have a feedback survey, you could add a question about accessibility to determine whether your attendees’ accessibility needs were met. Encourage attendees with disabilities to tell you how you can improve their experience next time. Don’t forget to let people know what you plan to do with the feedback you receive!

Finally, make sure to tell people about your accessibility features on your website, social media channels, and anywhere else you promote your festival! After all, you want prospective attendees to know you took care to create an inclusive and accessible event that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their level of ability.


2012 Survey on Disability:

2016 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability:

Guide to Accessible Festivals & Outdoor Events:

Design of Public Spaces Standard (DOPS):

Tips for making information accessible:

Tips for making customer service accessible:

Accessible customer service training for staff:

Author: Joanna Bieda

Joanna Bieda is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Modu-Loc Fence Rentals, and has been with the company since 2014. She loves writing and is a self-professed data nerd. She thoroughly enjoys teaching customers about all things fence via Modu-Loc's blog.

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