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Accessible meeting venues for group and individual needs & enhancing collaborations: each part of the planning process for meetings ultimately affects if and how much people with disabilities, who make up a significant percentage of the AUCD network and the attendees of AUCD-sponsored events, will be able to enjoy the meeting. Accessibility impacts the success of meetings.

These days, everyone is trying to make the most of limited budgets. Federal budget reductions for nonprofit and government programs has made it even more important for organizations with similar goals and missions to work together and combine their efforts. Meetings, conferences, and expos are a great opportunity to collaborate and network with peers and colleagues, and strengthen efforts being done at the local, state, and national levels. However, attending and participating in meetings can be difficult for people with disabilities if their needs are not anticipated and planned for throughout the meeting planning process. It is important to note that each person has unique needs when planning and hosting meetings; but without knowing who the exact attendees of meetings will be in advance, steps to ensure accessibility should occur in stages throughout the meeting planning process.

As a national nonprofit, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) is often responsible for planning large annual meetings for diverse groups from around the country. Planning a meeting for any size group requires a lot of time, energy, and knowledge about necessary questions to ask and steps to take to make your meeting fit the needs of all attendees. As an organization whose mission specifically focuses on working with and for people with disabilities, AUCD may look upon those questions second nature. However, even staff at AUCD considers the needs of groups and individuals very carefully when planning events.

AUCD plays an integral role in connecting disability researchers and advocates, policymakers, and community partners throughout the year at different venues. Venue and meeting accessibility are fundamental to building collaborations within the disability field. Each part of the planning process for meetings ultimately affects if and how much people with disabilities, who make up a significant percentage of the AUCD network and the attendees of AUCD-sponsored events, will be able to enjoy the meeting. Accessibility impacts the success of meetings and the ability for leaders within the field to connect and share current research.


Selecting an Accessible Meeting Venue

Venue selection is multi-tiered and includes self-advocates and multiple perspectives, to anticipate and accommodate for individual needs of every attendee, and provide a space for meaningful collaborations. AUCD's planning process for the 2012 CDC Disability and Health Partners Meeting in Atlanta, GA, (described below) is a model for planning and hosting accessible events. The typical planning period begins 10-12 months in advance of the event.

Consider Multiple Perspectives

The site selection process should reflect multiple perspectives as all people have different experiences and understandings of disability and accessibility. The site selection consulting company solicits detailed hotel bids for price, amenities, and accessibility. Self-advocates and AUCD staff tour facilities, evaluating physical access to hotel and guest rooms, signage, staff training and customer service and emergency procedures. Meetings are tailored to the individual needs of attendees, including accommodations, food allergies and sensory issues to allow for maximized comfort and access.


Check for Accessibility

AUCD program staff, with the help of self-advocates perform accessibility assessments to ensure hotel facilities meet standard accessibility requirements. Results showed that venues that report being fully accessible oftentimes do not meet one or more of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, which may prevent guests with disabilities from entering, staying in, or maneuvering throughout the hotel.

The following are sample accessibility checklist items taken from the 2012 Modified Hotel Accessibility Checklist developed by AUCD. Use this checklist to check (and double-check) the meeting site will be accessible to all attendees.

* Does the front lobby registration desk have an accessible counter? (No more than 36" high)

* Do the entrance doors have a clear width of 32"?

* Does the lobby provide an accessible bathroom/stall? (Stall door that opens outward, grab bar and side transfer that is 42-48" wide, sink set 29" from floor with clear space underneath of 30" wide by 45" deep, 60" diameter of clear floor space for maneuvering, toilet no higher than 29" from floor, door hardware that does not require twisting.)

* Does the hotel have the proper number of accessible guestrooms and accessible guestrooms with roll-in showers, according to ADA Standards? (Reference: Table 9.1.2. ADA Checklist for New Lodging Facilities)

* Do the guest rest rooms with roll-in showers have the appropriate accommodations to support guests using wheelchairs?

(Clear turnaround space outside, Stall 3' by 3', adjustable height hand-held shower wand with at least 60" long hose, transfer tub seat that can be securely attached to the tub available, horizontal bar at the food of the tub that is at least 24" long, horizontal grab bar at the head of the tub that s at least 12" long)


Ask meeting registrants about their individual accessibility needs so they can be anticipated and accommodated for prior to and upon their arrival at the meeting site. Accommodations may include:

* Sign language interpreter

* Audio cassette, disk

* Open captioning

* Wheelchair access

* Assistive listening devices

* Lodging, if applicable

* Note takers

* Transportation Braille, large print

* Environmental concerns (Allergens, etc.)

When working with hotel staff to negotiate a meeting space and contract for an event, be sure to articulate the anticipated needs of attendees. Advocate for the needs of meeting attendees. Consider providing event staff with basic training on working with people with disabilities and the size and needs of your group. Staff at the meeting venue should be informed and attentive to details related to your guests.

2012 Disability and Health

Partners Meeting

In July 2012, NCBDDD awarded eighteen states (State Disability and Health Grantees) with a three-year grant to develop and strengthen health-related disability programs (funded states: AL, AK, AR, DE, FL, IL, IA, MA, MI, MT, NH, NY, NC, ND, OH, RI, SC). The purpose of the grant is to promote health, prevent chronic disease, and increase the quality of life among people with disabilities. The states will work to increase capacity and action in health promotion, access to health care and emergency preparedness activities for people with disabilities.

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) is a network of interdisciplinary centers advancing policy and practice for and with individuals with developmental and other disabilities, their families, and communities. The network is made up of three types of research centers: University Centers on Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs), Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LENDs), and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers (IDDRCs). AUCD centers focus on providing research, service and education on issues relevant to people with disabilities and their families; each with unique programs, research objectives, target audiences, and scope of services.

AUCD has a cooperative agreement with the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focused on strengthening the nation's capacity to carry out public health activities inclusive of people with disabilities. Cooperative agreement activities include providing technical assistance to the State Disability and Health Grantees, which includes planning logistics and meeting details for the annual Disability and Health Partners Meeting. The meeting will connect newly-funded state grantees with CDC and AUCD in Atlanta, GA, August 7-8, 2012 for orientation and training.


The following resources have been developed by previous State Disability and Health Grantees and/or federal partners with the goal of improving meeting accessibility.

* Adaptive Environments Center, Inc. for the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. (1995).The Americans with Disabilities Act Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal.

* Association of University Centers on Disabilities. (2011). 2012 Modified Hotel Accessibility Checklist.

* Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Office on Health and Disability. (2007). Accessible Print Materials: Formatting Guidelines to Accommodate All Audiences.

* Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Office on Health and Disability. (2007). Planning Accessible Meetings and Events: Guidelines to Accommodate All Participants.

* US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. (2006). Accessible Customer Service Practices for Hotel and Lodging Guests with Disabilities.

* US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section.(2005). ADA Checklist for New Lodging Facilities.



By Sharon Romelczyk, MPA, Adriane K. Griffen, MPH, MCHES
COPYRIGHT 2012 EP Global Communications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Author:Romelczyk, Sharon; Griffen, Adriane K.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2012
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