If you want all of the people attending your event to be able to participate, then you need to plan your event to make that possible. There are multiple things you can do to increase participation. Some of these ideas apply primarily to large, multi-day events; others are well-suited even for hour-long, informal gatherings. Many of these ideas do not have significant monetary costs.
General inclusion and participation
- Remind attendees to be kind to each other and not to judge others. Put it on signs as a reminder.
- Promote and explain the friendly space policies to all attendees early in the event.
- Have a specific way to identify people who don't want to be photographed.
- Provide information about how to get to the venue. Ideally the venue would be close to accessible public transport, but where that isn't possible, private transport (e.g., coaches, taxis) should be as universally accessible as possible.
The Wikimedia movement is a global movement. Most movement-wide or regional events attract people who do not all speak the same language fluently. If your participants might not all share a common language, then try these things:
Registration, instructions and schedule
- Get important messages and registration paperwork translated in advance.
- Post instructions and signs in multiple languages, or, at least, in Simple English. If needed, provide examples of what is expected.
- Encourage people to identify their languages of comfort on name badges or during introductory activities.
- Provide specific sessions or programmatic information by language. For example, if many participants at a large event will speak either French or English, then offer some workshops in French and other workshops in English.
Advice for speakers and sessions
- Remind speakers to present in a way that will be easy for a diverse and multilingual audience to understand:
- Encourage speakers not to rush through their material. They should speak slowly and to pause between sentences.
- Encourage them to put all key information in writing, either in a slide deck, on posters, or in printed papers that can be distributed.
- Encourage them to avoid slang and cultural references that may not be understood by everyone. Examples include brand names, names of celebrities, culture-specific jokes, quotations that are familiar only to people who watched a particular movie, etc. If you really feel that such a reference can contribute to your presentation, you must be ready to explain it to people who aren't familiar with it.
- Encourage them to have training and practice in realistic conditions before the event, to check all of this and reduce stress.
- For speakers, when you pause, ask people who attend if they are still following your ideas.
- Define a way to approve silently what someone says (for example by raising and shaking hands), which may help to have more participation.
- Ask whether anyone has questions. Pause for a full ten seconds if no one replies immediately. Some people may need to think about not only their questions, but also how to say it in your language. Some language learners may feel uncomfortable speaking in public, so give people the option of submitting questions in writing.
- A structured or facilitated discussion may increase participation by giving everyone a fair chance, instead of just the people who are quickest to speak or willing to interrupt others.
- For example, tell the group that a microphone will be passed around, and only the person with the microphone should be speaking. This can also be done with any identified object.
- In small group discussions, assign one person to watch who is talking and who has stayed silent, and then to directly ask quiet individuals if they want to say anything.
- Request a grant to hire a real-time translator, also for the predominant local sign language.
- Finish the session 5 minutes before the hour, to give time for people to move to another room.
- Resources: Advice for native English speakers
Most of these options are also beneficial to people who are affected by hearing loss.
Providing access to people with disabilities goes well beyond finding out whether an event venue is accessible to a person who uses a wheelchair. There are many common disabilities or conditions that event organizers can plan to accommodate.
- Back pain and joint pain: Chronic pain affects about one in five adults. Keep sessions short, or offer breaks and reminders to stand up or walk around. If you expect participants to spend a lot of time working on a computer, encourage them to bring their favorite keyboards, laptop stands, or other equipment. Provide chairs for use during sessions and also in places where participants might gather informally.
- Psychiatric or mental impairments: Many people have sleep disorders or experience some depression or anxiety, and symptoms can be worsened by jetlag from traveling to your event. Consider scheduling key events neither too early or too late, especially on the first day. Participants on the autism spectrum, people with social anxiety, as well as many other people – even people who just need to focus on some work – benefit from a designated quiet room. Quiet rooms should be in the quietest part of your venue, and should have signs on the door and in the room to remind participants not to talk or make telephone calls in the room.
- Substance abuse: Alcohol use disorders affect up to one in six people in developed countries. If event attendees may go out to drink in the evenings, then consider providing and advertising a sober alternative. You should prohibit smoking tobacco or other substances indoors and near doors or open windows, because smoke can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks, in addition to annoying non-smokers and people who are trying stop smoking.
- Hearing impairments: One in six adults is affected by hearing loss. They often struggle the most in a noisy environment, such as a large, echoey room where multiple conversations are happening. Use appropriate sound systems, and investigate assistive devices. If you want to split a larger group into small groups for discussion, then separate the groups as much as possible (perhaps in separate rooms), so that people can speak in a normal voice and not be distracted by neighboring conversations. Provide written information about the event (for example, post the schedule on a wall) and the content (for example, post speakers' slide decks online).
- Mobility impairments: About one in ten working-age adults have trouble walking or other difficulty with moving around, including people with invisible disabilities such as heart disease. The impairments may be temporary, such as a broken leg, the effects of a recent surgery, or back pain from pregnancy. Some people may use tools such as canes, crutches, or wheelchairs, or they may normally walk unassisted but be unable to climb stairs or to sit on the floor. Avoid places that have heavy doors, stairs, or even a single tall step blocking normal use of the building. If the main entrance is inaccessible, then advertise an alternate, accessible path or have someone stand at the main entrance to greet everyone and tell them how to find the accessible route. Don't put tables and chairs too close together or too close to the wall. Provide chairs or other places to sit. If participants will move from room to room, then leave plenty of time to move from one place to another.
- Vision impairments: Use large print for signs and other printed materials, with high contrast. Post information online or share it via e-mail. Some attendees with vision impairments may find Braille copies of printed material useful. Make verbal announcements of all key information. When a presentation uses an image or a chart that is essential to its content, say explicitly what appears on the image.
- Fatigue: At large events, many participants are likely to be tired due to jet lag, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, and the excitement of everything that is going on. Many people will additionally be dealing with fatigue due to pain and other medical conditions, as well as the side effects from medications. Consider scheduling breaks every couple of hours. A 30-minute break in the middle of the morning and afternoon provides an opportunity for rest as well as a chance for informal interactions. The venue should provide ways to lie down, in the quiet room first. Some exercises to reduce fatigue and pain can be provided (relaxation techniques, stretching, massages...).
- Food and drink: Provide easy access to drinking water, fresh and tempered, at all times. Food allergies and other non-allergic dietary restrictions, such as lactose or gluten intolerances or needing to follow a diabetic diet, are relatively common. If you provide food, post readable signs for prepared meals to tell people what the food ingredients are. These signs could prevent an illness, and they will also help people who don't want to eat some particular type of food. Consider to have meat or fish as sides instead of main courses, to put the focus on vegetables. If you aren't providing food as part of the event, then be ready to recommend a place where participants could buy something to eat.
- Personal needs: Make sure that your venue has adequate access to restrooms, and that the restrooms will be accessible to people with mobility impairments. For example, toilets should not be located in the basement at the bottom of a narrow flight of stairs. People with some neurological or circulatory conditions may be unable to tolerate hot or cold temperatures; think about whether your venue is likely to be very warm or cold.
Registration materials should always request information about participants' individual needs in advance. If registration is not required for the event, then advertise a way for potential participants to contact you with requests for accommodations in advance.
It is not always possible to accommodate every request. For example, dogs, including trained service dogs, are not usually permitted inside commercial kitchens, so you would likely be forced to decline a request to bring a service dog on a trip whose purpose is photographing food preparation in a restaurant. In other cases, accommodating a disability would fundamentally alter the nature of the event. Respond to all requests as soon as possible before the event, so that potential participants know whether and how you can accommodate their needs.
Some people might want to participate, but still be unable to attend the event physically. Provide access to them through remote-friendly means such as:
- Live-streaming the event
- Recording key events and posting the videos online
- Adding an online communication option, such as an IRC channel that can be used to submit questions to a speaker
- Posting slide decks and other materials online
- Posting detailed notes about what happened at the meeting
Many of these options are also beneficial to people who attended the event.
During remote-friendly or recorded sessions, ask people to use the microphones when they speak, so that their questions or comments can be heard by people outside of the room.
Advertising your support for parents is a key way to increase participation by women in your event.
- Tell parents whether, when, and where children are welcome at your event.
- If registration is required for the event, ask attendees to include the names and ages of any children or other family members or caregivers that will be coming to the event.
- If people are traveling to your event, then provide information about nearby family-friendly hotels, restaurants, or attractions in your registration materials. Even if you think that your event is not suitable for attendance by children, participants may attend your event as part of a family vacation and will appreciate this practical information.
- Consider the time of year (school-age children are in school during the school year) and the time of day (young children usually go to sleep in the early evening) when deciding how to include parents and their children in your event. If you need to have age restrictions (e.g., nursing babies only), then state that clearly.
Supporting families with young children
- If your venue is wheelchair-accessible, then it is also accessible to parents with strollers (baby buggies). If you have more than a few families attending, designate a "parking lot" for strollers inside your venue.
- If your event is more than a few hours long, then identify where nursing mothers could feed their babies or pump milk. This place must be separate from the quiet room and the toilets.
- If possible, provide a room with chairs, drinking water, and electrical outlets.
- If the event is not free and open to the public, then establish a way for caregivers to get into the venue, so that nursing mothers do not have to leave your event to get the baby at feeding time.
- Pumping breast milk or feeding a baby can take 15 to 30 minutes. Having a long break in the schedule means that nursing mothers won't miss the main program.
- Consider having a place for kids and people to take care of them. For example, designate a room or a part of a room for use by children and their caregivers. This should be a place where a crying child won't disrupt a session.
- Consider offering child care, or at least being able to provide the name and contact information for a local babysitting agency if you are asked for help by presenters and participants from outside the area. If you are planning an event with many children, then ask your venue for suggestions. Many large convention centers have rooms that can be used for a children's program. It may also be possible to rent a local childcare facility on weekends or holidays, when the regular program is closed. Nearby schools, museums, and religious organizations may have classrooms for rent during certain times of year or on some days of the week. The city agency responsible for parks may also have space for a children's program.
Including older children and teens
- Most older kids are able to behave themselves during public events, and they may surprise you with their enthusiasm and understanding. Consider letting them register with their parents as full participants, or giving them low-cost access to parts of your event.
- Consider ways that your program might benefit from having kids involved. For example, if your workshop is developing a lesson plan for use in a school, then collect some of the older kids at the end of the day and have the workshop's participants teach the lesson and evaluate how they can improve it. Kids can also give feedback on user interface designs developed during a hackathon or act as novice users to see whether documentation for end users is understandable.
- If you are giving things to your participants, then consider whether these could be made appropriate for kids. Custom conference packets or age-appropriate gifts are possible, but this can also be as simple as ordering more T-shirts in size extra-small, and then offering participants the choice between a T-shirt in their own size or a smaller T-shirt to give to a kid they know.
- Regularly encourage participants to find a person that they have not met, and to introduce themselves. Create specific times during the program when "meet someone that you don't know" is the official activity. Give everyone practical tips on networking, such as sitting in the chair next to someone else, instead of staying an arm's length away.
- Provide name tags, and encourage everyone to wear them. If your event occurs regularly, consider special ribbons or badges, or a different name tag to identify people who are attending your event for the first time.
- Can you get newcomers involved before the event? Consider using social media or e-mail to help them talk to other attendees beforehand.
- During meetings or sessions, make sure that newcomers are given an opportunity to participate. It can be intimidating for a new person to speak up in a conversation dominated by veterans, especially if the veterans are talking about an old issue without explaining the background for the benefit of people who didn't attend last year's event.
- For longer events, hold a session early in the program for the specific purpose of gathering newcomers, introducing them to a few "old timers", and giving them useful information about the event.
- If it's a multi-track conference, help the newcomers figure out what sessions they want to attend.
- Help them find out how to connect with any informal social events. For example, if the official schedule does not include evening activities, then invite them to join you and your friends on the first evening. The veteran attendees may already know that everyone meets in the lobby to make dinner plans or that the garden is the best place to meet other people, but the newcomers need to be told.
- Consider a follow-up group session at the end of the first day, to find out what they still need. This would also be a good time to remind them about any evening activities.
- Ask several experienced attendees to look for newcomers and other people who might be feeling isolated throughout the event. If you have enough veteran participants, try matching each newcomer with a specific veteran host or mentor. Encourage each pairs to exchange mobile phone numbers or other contact information, and to talk frequently about what sessions to attend, where to eat, and how the newcomer feels about the event overall.
- After the event, send a special e-mail message or survey to newcomers and hosts. Seek ideas about how to improve their experiences (and post them here!).
- "Universally accessible" means that it works for people with very different kinds of disability. For example, a bus might be considered universally accessible when it has a ramp for a bus rider who uses a wheelchair, spoken bus stop announcements for a blind bus rider, and printed signs for a bus rider who is hard of hearing.
- For example, the trash and recycling system is not the same in every country, and they can even be different between cities of the same country. Waste bins' colors are not the same, and they don't accept the same refuse as elsewhere. Labelling them using pictures will help people to understand what goes where.