A study into accessible meetings by BestCities Global Alliance, GainingEdge consultancy and Rehabilitation International was unveiled at the ICCA Congress in Dubai this week.
The research project aims to promote awareness among meeting organisers and the supplier community about the need to remove barriers for delegates with disabilities involving mobility, senses, medical, and cognitive/developmental impairment. It also includes recommendations on how destinations can make the business events they host more inclusive.
Universal accessibility in the meetings industry was found to contribute to business growth, knowledge sharing, an improved experience and increasing competitiveness in destinations. The study details how many people will benefit from these provisions in venues including the ageing population, parents with prams, and those with reduced mobility.
Barriers to accessibility can include obstacles in the physical environment such as architecture or technological inefficiencies as well as communicational or attitudinal obstacles in the broader environment.
Jeannie Lim, chair of BestCities Global Alliance, said: “It is our intention that BestCities bureaus, as partners of the world’s leading convention bureau alliance, will trail blaze the way for other destinations around the world to make significant improvements in universal accessibility.
“This will be achieved through knowledge sharing and best practices from BestCities destinations, which can then be emulated or adapted to support convention delegates with special needs.”
BestCities Global Alliance is an international network of 12 leading convention destinations including Berlin, Cape Town, Dubai, Madrid, Melbourne, Singapore, Tokyo and Vancouver. The research was conducted with 20 key venues in BestCities destinations; each city provided insight on what it’s doing to create a landscape that is ‘accessible for all.’
Three ‘BestCities’ from the region participated in the study and were found to “have innovated and adapted in order to meet the needs of people with disabilities”, and were places where “communities also evolved to create an inclusive environment”.
As part of Melbourne’s “Good Access is Good Business” Initiative, a study by Monash University revealed that businesses enjoy a 20 to 25% increase turnover for universally accessible retail environments compared to non-accessible environments. The city’s “Open Innovation Competition” yielded innovative and effective solutions that use smart technologies to create a more inclusive and accessible city.
Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA) introduced a Universal Design Guide in 2007 to offer guidelines in the design of products and environment that mandates new projects and existing buildings which undergo additions and alterations to follow the new code. The Accessibility Fund encourages building owners to include accessibility features for the visually and hearing-impaired such braille signage and hearing loops.
Efforts to make Japan increasingly barrier-free have gained momentum ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will do much to lift awareness and promote inclusion. Along with promoting measures to make railway stations, roads and buildings barrier-free, the Tokyo 2020 Accessibility Guidelines will emphasise the importance of city planning that is friendly to everyone from the perspective of universal design.
The report is an important first step towards industry-wide awareness and adoption of universal accessibility. Gary Grimmer, CEO of GainingEdge, said: “We recognise that building an understanding of the broader issues of delegate accessibility will encourage the industry to cater better for people who have a range of needs. Bringing these into the meetings arena can help develop management practices that create a more inclusive environment.”
The report highlights some best practices in areas that operators may not have previously considered, such as disability awareness and sensitivity training, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for handling requests involving participants with disabilities, and referring to standards concerning accessibility as guidelines.
The report also makes a number of recommendations including self-education, establishing a tangible business case for accessible meetings, and universal accessibility certification. For venues, introducing mandatory training sessions with frontline staff, setting operational accessibility manuals with procedures and regulations to work from, and referring to the standards laid out by the Community Development Authority are examples of how they can meet the needs of all delegates.
Another outcome of the research was that more associations should consider incorporating accessibility clauses in their RFPs, and that it should be a key requirement for venues to accommodate barrier-free accessibility for all delegates. In certain cases, planners should work directly with local host committees to make sure that training, especially for frontliners, will be provided, and full inclusion is ensured.
The report also offers some recommendations on how bureaus, suppliers and meeting planners can do their part to promote universal accessibility in the meetings industry.