Practical tips for fundraising events that include people with disabilities and special needs.

Around one in six (18%) people in Australia – or approximately 4.4 million people – live with disability. Another 22% of people in Australia have a long-term health condition but no disability (ABS 2019). By excluding people with disabilities or impairments you are missing out on a huge number of potential supporters and followers. 

Our fundraising events are just one place where we can start removing roadblocks for people living with disability. 

At the recent Fundraising Everywhere Events Fundraising Virtual Summit 2022, Molly White, the Public Fundraising Lead for Community and Events at Scope UK, shared her tips for developing events that welcome everyone and shut no one out. 

The social model of disability 

“I’m disabled by the world around me and if the world was more accessible, I would be less disabled,” says broadcaster and journalist, Mik Scarlet, who also runs an access and inclusion consultancy and is a spokesperson for Scope UK.  

This way of viewing the world – developed by people living with disability – posits that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, such as buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, such as assuming people with disabilities are unable to do certain things. 

The social model helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for people with disabilities. Removing these barriers creates equality and offers people with disabilities more independence, choice and control. Our fundraising events are just one place where we can start removing these roadblocks.   

A note on hidden disabilities  

Some disabilities are visible, but many are not.  

Australia’s Hidden Disabilities website tells us that: “These non-visible disabilities, also known as invisible or hidden disabilities are not immediately obvious. They can be physical, mental or neurological and include, but are not limited to, autism and Asperger syndrome, cognitive impairments such as learning difficulties and dementia, mental health conditions, and speech, visual impairments or hearing loss. They also include respiratory and chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, chronic pain and sleep disorders when these significantly impact day-to-day life.”  

When thinking about your events, consider participants whose disabilities or health conditions may not be visible, but who would appreciate you taking the time to seek out this information and accommodate individual needs.  

Co-production is gold standard  

Co-production is a method used at Scope to develop new products and services. It means working in equal partnership with disabled people to design and deliver the organisation’s suite of offerings. It says “nothing about us without us”. Scope is committed to doing this with all events and fundraising products.  

But not everyone has the same dedicated resources as Scope, so here are the key learnings from Molly’s experience delivering accessible and inclusive events.  

Getting it right throughout the event lifecycle  

People with disabilities are often excluded from events due to poor accessibility and poor communication. High profile events are not immune. The organisers of the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, COP26, came under fire when Karine Elharrar, Israel’s minister of energy and water resources,  was unable to access the Glasgow venue in her wheelchair.  

Poor accessibility and communication are forms of discrimination – people with disabilities should be able to participate and enjoy all the benefits that events bring. This is how we can make that happen.  

Marketing 

Molly’s top tips: 

  • Write in plain English  
  • User headers to break up text on webpages 
  • Use the Hemmingway App to check readability and access tips that improve copy  
  • Include alt-text on images  
  • Be representative in imagery  
  • Check out bighack.org for more information about creating accessible content online  

Sign up and supporter care  

Molly’s top tips:   

  • Highlight accessibility features up front – if your event offers disabled parking, accessible toilets and a dedicated quiet space, share this information openly 
  • Ask everyone at the point of sign up if they identify as disabled or have an impairment or condition 
  • Ask everyone at the point of sign up if they require additional support or have requests for adjustments (note that people may not identify as having a disability and so it is important to ask both this and the question above to capture all needs) 
  • When anyone answers ‘yes’ to the above two questions, follow up by phone and clarify – don’t assume anything  
  • Let the participant guide you – listen! 
  • Take an individual approach because every one of us is different 
  • Examples of things people might ask for that you can accommodate   
  • Information to help plan a visit – where is the nearest train station? What is the closest car park? Can you grant someone early access?  
  • That key information is shared by phone or text as well as email  
  • That you liaise with organisers or venues to check accessibility details and share these with participants  

Event planning – venues  

Choose an accessible venue. Ask, is there: 

  • Adequate wheelchair access? 
  • Accessible toilets? 
  • A lift? 
  • An induction loop? 
  • Space for a quiet zone?  

Be sure to ask these questions on all site visits. You can also consider hiring sign language interpreters for events with speakers. Providing carer/support person tickets free of charge is another helpful and inexpensive way to be inclusive.  

Event planning – challenge events  

Molly’s top tips:   

  • Think about cheer points and start/finish areas – are they accessible for all spectators?  
  • Choose locations close to amenities such as shops, toilets, trains, trams and bus stops  
  • Provide information about the closest parking options  
  • Make people aware of road closures (related to your event or otherwise) that may make it difficult for them to arrive by car 
  • Have lots of large print signage  
  • Have visible event staff and a designated participant support desk  
  • Create a quiet zone 
  • Allow guide runners/participants at no extra cost  

Virtual and hybrid events  

Virtual events are accessible to a larger number of people than in-person events. Weigh this up when considering your event format.  

Choosing an accessible platform is key. Many platforms will share their accessibility information online. Here is Zoom’s 

Other considerations include whether your event can be viewed on both desktop and mobile (likely!). Or asking if there is the potential to include a hybrid element once you return to in-person events.  

Post-event 

Molly’s top tips:   

  • Include questions about accessibility in your feedback survey 
  • Follow up directly with any known participants or guests with disabilities or special needs to understand their experience  
  • Implement the learnings and recommendations in your next event 

In summary… 

  • Take simple pre-emptive steps to ensure basic inclusion and accessibility  
  • Take an individual approach to accommodating specific needs, and allow participants to tell you what they need 
  • Remain open and honest – not everything will be possible  

And finally, remember that good accessibility improves the experience for everyone. Websites that are easy to navigate and provide a positive user experience? Great! Challenge events that secure more participants because carer registrations are provided free of charge? Awesome!  

It is likely you are implementing a lot of these initiatives already, but when you start planning your next fundraising event, look at it through a fresh lens and really try put yourself in the position of all people who might like to take part.  

For more information about the social model of accessibility, click here 

To learn more about the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme, and how special merchandise could help your organisation provide a more positive experience for people with non-visible disabilities, click here 

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