How does your annual conference ensure that all members and visitors, especially people with disabilities, are able to participate fully in your annual conference session? Or, if you are planning a larger-scale church meeting, regional rally, or similar event, how do you ensure the same? Here are several suggestions based on practices adopted by various annual conferences:
To assure that individual needs are met at your conference or event, it is best to designate an accessibility coordinator whose sole role is to plan ahead and to solve accessibility and accommodations issues throughout the event. Kathy Wellman, a member of the Accessibility Ministries team, filled this role in the Northern Illinois Conference in 2015. She communicated with everyone who asked for accommodations prior to the conference, but discovered that additional persons requested assistance once her presence became known. She served as a “listening presence” and found that people were very appreciative of her support. Her roles were as varied as teaching people to use the FM assisted listening system units and fashioning a foot stool for a member who needed to keep her foot elevated.
An accessibility coordinator should have familiarity with a variety of disabilities and accommodations, and also with the workings of the annual conference. Persons with disabilities who work with accessibility or independent living, occupational or physical therapists, and family members of persons with disabilities are all possible coordinators. The person must be willing to speak up and serve as an advocate. DMC member Russell Ewell observed that a good coordinator is proactive and continually aware of what needs to be in place and who is or is not being included.
The Rocky Mountain Conference Disability Visions—Ability Matters Committee has developed a useful planning tool and checklist, available to download at their website and included in the A to Z document. One gem from their document—when asking participants to request accommodations, also ask “what gifts, skills, and/or experience do you have that can enhance full inclusion and accessibility for all of us in attendance.”
Adapted from The Voice, March 2016