Inclusion tour BEA

The annual Best Event Awards Festival celebrates and recognises the best events around the world. And everyone is welcome at the party... right?!
Diversity and Inclusion are high on the agenda at the Best Event Awards (BEA).This was therefore discussed in depth during the programme. The conclusion: the events industry still has a long way to go in this regard.

Marianne Dijkshoorn is an expert in the field of event accessibility and an experiential expert : she has difficulty walking and uses a wheelchair for longer distances.
She is the author of the book ‘Maak je event toegankelijk voor iedereen’ (Make Your event accessible to everyone) and has advised, among others, the Eurovision Song Festival in Rotterdam on their accessibility.
During the BEA Festival, she spoke about inclusion and accessibility. She let attendees experience first hand how disadvantaged you still are if you are a wheelchair user, blind, deaf and so on.

For me as a wheelchair user, the feeling of belonging – truly belonging – starts with diversity. If I am not the only person with a disability or impairment, then I immediately feel more at home. The more diverse the public, the less excluded an individual minority will feel.
However, when you watch the videos of the nominated projects during the Best Event Awards, you still primarily see 'happy white people'. And even at the BEA event itself, this image remains.

But greater diversity alone does not necessarily mean that everyone really feels welcome. This raises the issue of inclusion, which in my case is all about accessibility.

In addition to many other sessions with a focus on the events industry, BEA attendees had the opportunity to take part in an ‘Inclusion Parcours’, where they went around the event location in a wheelchair or with a white cane (for the visually impaired). This let them experience the event from the perspective of someone with a disability, a temporary one in their case, and showed them how non-inclusive the events they organise generally are.

The wheelchair experience

Four wheelchairs were available for use in the event location. People were walking this way and that, crisscrossing paths, and would suddenly stop to talk with each other. When you’re sitting and the other people are standing, they don’t notice you right away. The wheelchair users said that it was quite a challenge to communicate that they wanted to pass: it feels uncomfortable and sometimes you really have to raise your voice to be heard, which can come across as unfriendly.

Another challenge was the cable duct challenge. In the middle of the space was one of those familiar black and yellow cable ducts (or maybe cable hump is a better term), which are there to prevent people from treading on the cables and damaging them or tripping over them.
Too few organisers realise that the solution to their problem (a way to keep the cables neat and secure) actually causes a problem for other people. Almost every wheelchair user had to make multiple attempts each time they wanted to pass over the cable duct, because the ramp of the cable duct is too angular. At the entrance to Hall 1, there were even two cable ducts positioned one after the other. This was an insurmountable challenge, and if you’re rolling into the hall after everyone has already sat down then you draw the attention of everyone present. Not very pleasant if you're in that wheelchair.

The solution may be a bit more work, but it’s certainly not impossible: conceal the cables along the top. Or use cable ducts that are designed for a wheelchair to pass (these actually are available to rent).

The networking challenge

And then there was coffee. The Italian espresso bar was easy to find and easily accessible. But once you’ve picked up your cup of espresso, you want to make room for the next person in the queue. The experience soon taught the temporary wheelchair users that rolling with drinks in your hand is virtually impossible. You had to pick up your drink at the bar, the staff did not bring it to you. So, the only option was to drink your coffee in front of the bar and hope that you weren’t in other people’s way.

The height difference already makes it difficult to network. Someone stated, “It is really quite a challenge to network when you are sitting down and everyone else is standing.” A somewhat more equal combination of high tables and sitting areas helps enormously.
The difference in height could also be felt during a number of industry-related sessions. A number of these were designed for spontaneous walk-ins, where everyone engaged in a standing conversation with each other. Good luck inserting yourself into one of these conversations in your wheelchair. And try having an equal part in those conversations when all you can see are people's backsides and don’t even know who’s speaking.

And at some point the espresso has to come out again, so it's off to the toilets. The venue has a wheelchair-friendly toilet, so that gives you some hope. But first you have to get there – once you reach the toilets, you find yourself facing a very steep ramp. Most of the wheelchair users gave it a try, but only a single person made it to the top without help. Most of them asked other attendees for a push. Everyone was pretty tired by the end of this challenge.

Musical chairs

Someone in a wheelchair, still rolling around in search of a place, asks where you can sit in the conference hall if all the chairs are chained together for safety. At most events, no consideration is given to wheelchair users, so they end up sitting in the back or in an aisle (where they are often blocking the way). These are not the nicest places to participate in the event, because you want to be part of the audience.
A simple option would be to place a wheelchair mat in an area where chairs have been removed. Chairs are brought out for people who can walk, so why not make a place for wheelchair users as well?

Being Blind BEA

The white cane test

Right, so wheelchair access was a challenge; that much was clear to the people who took part in the ‘Inclusion Parcours’. How would it be with a different sort of disability?
Another component was to take a walk with a white cane and a blindfold. The people who tried this, walking in pairs, encountered a number of problems.
To start with, the temporarily visually impaired quickly became completely disoriented and had no idea which hall they were in. The big question was: how do you find your way through a crowded venue (and how are you going to network with that ‘old’ friend if you can’t see where that person is)?
Moreover, they were completely left out of the visual aspect of the event. In keeping with the expression ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, the visually impaired quickly found themselves excluded.

The real experience

Of course it is interesting and maybe even fun to pretend that you have a disability and to go through an event location in that way. Several times I was asked, “How do you experience accessibility, as someone with a permanent disability?”

The BEA location was certainly wheelchair-friendly; the aisles were wide enough and the location itself has two wheelchair-friendly toilets.

There was no problem getting in, but you want more than that – an event is something you want to experience. You want to see what is happening on the stage, follow the videos of the nominees and preferably get into all the halls so you don't miss anything.

Someone from production asked me if I wanted to sit in a chair during the award show, instead of in my wheelchair. No problem. I switched over to a chair. Nobody subsequently thought to move the wheelchair out of the way. As a result of this, the nominees in their gala clothes had to constantly squeeze past my wheelchair. That was quite triggering and made me feel uncomfortable.

The role of the day's chairperson

If, as day's chairperson, you notice that people cannot participate or can only partially participate, you can ask the following question: “Can I be of assistance in any way, so that you can experience the event better?” People with a disability often see simple and practical solutions, such as: “Could you remove that chair?” or “Could you pass me the catchbox/microphone?”
They should also be aware that they are often the event’s linking pin, because not every attendee knows who is organising it. So if you are the host then you should reach out to anyone who has been excluded, but also know that you don’t have to solve everything on your own.

How can an organiser be inclusive and prevent awkward moments?

As an organiser, you want nothing more than to offer visitors the best hospitality. And that is where accessibility begins: with hospitality.
If you are aware of something in advance then you can plan and organise for it. If you know that people with a disability will be attending, simply ask: “What can we arrange for you so that you are able to experience our event to the fullest?”
You can make suggestions, such as “Can we make a place for your wheelchair in the event hall?”, “Can we provide a water dish for your assistance dog?” or “Can we create an extra space where you can go to decompress?”.
If you don’t know who is coming, just enquire in the registration form. It is standard practice to ask about dietary requirements, so why not ask about accessibility requirements?


If you want to make everyone feel welcome at your event, make sure there is a good level of diversity and inclusion and, most of all, good accessibility for everyone. This starts with checking to see whether everyone is able to take part in everything. If you have any doubts, then ask an expert who knows all about events and accessibility for people with different kinds of disabilities.

Marianne Dijkshoorn

Deel dit artikel op je favoriete social kanaal
Foto m e r dag 10 11 2011 124

Together, we make the best match!

We know our moderators better than anyone. We understand your needs. We will gladly help you find the best solution.