Sherry P. Johnson
7 Tips for More Accessible Meetings
Former facilitation trainees and clients often ask me how to make meetings more accessible—not only for people with disabilities, but also for those with other access needs, like non-native English speakers and those who struggle with mental health and trauma. This is vital work, and those in our field are still figuring this out. But here are some good practices:
1. Inclusive Mindset: As you design, facilitate, and document, always be asking, “Who might be left out of this, and is there anything I can do to include more of those who are typically excluded?” Just thinking about it--and assuming there's always room to grow--can make a big difference.
2. Backstop System: In your invitations and outreach, specify that everyone is welcome in meetings, and provide encouragement for people to attend with a trusted person who will help them participate. Facilitators and trainers often default to a "don't sit with a friend" mentality, but that is inherently ableist and individualistic.
3. I've been inspired by Jessica Horvath Williams to start every meeting with an "access check." Signal if you have issues...seeing...moving...connecting with a nearby partner. If possible, have a designated Access Facilitator whose primary job is to do this introduction, be present, and move about looking for accessibility issues.
4. Scope out spaces that are wheelchair, cane, walker, crutch, and bad-knees-accessible. Think, too, about hidden disabilities like TBI, ADHD, and autism: How sensory-friendly is the space? Natural light, sound-dampening features, and ergonomic seating all offer ways to increase access. Is it easy to pay attention in large- and small-group work in the space? Are there chairs available for accommodating people who weigh more than 250 pounds? Increasingly important and more widely available: Spaces with gender-neutral restrooms.
5. Like Lydia X. Z. Brown, invite everyone to "take up space" at the beginning of the meeting. Take a moment to invite folks to breathe and ground themselves in the space, especially in fields where the participants are working amid trauma. Trauma often causes people to draw themselves inward, physically and mentally. Invitation to space-taking can be about taking up physical surface area like floors, chairs, and tabletops. It can also look like self-care: getting up and eating, taking breaks, or leaving the room for a bit if someone needs space to process hard conversations. Encourage everyone to "honor their bodyminds" in the space.
6. Try to work from written questions on banners or flipcharts. If the meeting invitation was promoted using multiple languages, make sure these banners and flipcharts reflect that, with questions translated into multiple languages. Using icons is an excellent way to make visuals more universally accessible, and The Noun Project is a handy resource.
7. Try ToP© Consensus Workshops using pictures and drawings for working cross-culturally or including people with lower written literacy. It can also be a great way to connect deeply without the encumbrance of written words. Hiring a graphic recorder for events is another way to de-center verbal communication.