Offering “inclusive meeting experiences” to attendees with disabilities is a worthy goal for any hotelier, suggests Stephen Cutchins, the first-ever senior product manager of accessibility at Cvent, a major event technology provider. Cvent itself has the goal of making events “100 percent accessible,” he shares. For hotel owners and operators, there are several specific measures that will help realize that objective for any hosted meeting.
1Be ready for hybrid.
Hybrid meetings, a format that has gained prominence due to the pandemic, are “really great from an accessibility standpoint,” Cutchins points out, as they allow remote participation by attendees whose disability makes traveling a challenge. To that end, hotels need to be ready to partner with third-party audiovisual (AV) teams and companies like Cvent to deliver quality live streams.
2Ensure event production staff are versed in special needs.
Hotel staff involved in producing the meeting presentations should understand the basics of accessibility, such as providing on-screen captions. “An example that’s come up in some events recently is that if you have somebody doing sign language interpretation when a live stream is taking place, make sure that the producers know to keep that person on screen,” says Carl Aldrich, senior director of product management at Cvent, “because it doesn’t do the remote audience any good if they can’t actually see the person who’s signing.” Cutchins adds, “If you’re going to have a sign language interpreter, the people [depending on that interpreter] in the room need to have the front row.”
3Optimize meeting spaces for physical accessibility.
Hotel operators should “make sure that [meeting rooms] are organized in such a way that they’re physically accessible to somebody in a wheelchair [for example], and that there is space for people who might need more space for seating, etc.,” Aldrich notes.
4Provide for general technological accessibility.
Meeting attendees are like any other traveler in that they utilize the hotel’s reservation and guest services tech tools. Aldrich advises hoteliers to ensure that any technology they’re utilizing, even outside the context of a specific event, is user-friendly to those with disabilities. “If somebody can register for the event, that’s great, but they also need to be able to book a hotel room. All the steps that somebody has to go through in order to actually travel have to be accessible technology-wise,” he says.
5Get feedback from those with disabilities.
One of the best ways hoteliers can improve their service to meeting attendees with disabilities is simply to ask them about their onsite experience. “Ask attendees, how can we help you? What can we do to make the experience better? Because not every blind person has the same experience or wants the same thing, but probably a very high percentage is the same. There might be little tweaks here and there,” says Cutchins. Aldrich suggests asking, “Is there anything that’s hard for you to navigate, whether it’s technology or with the physical space?” Even hotel employees with disabilities can be a touchstone for these types of concerns so that accessibility can ultimately be improved for guests.