4 Creating an Inclusive Atmosphere

One of the primary considerations before drilling down into the details is ensuring you have thought about some of the basic considerations to creating an inclusive atmosphere – be that through your role as an organizer to the amount of funding allocated to accessibility. In this section, we have highlighted some practices to consider for all types of events and programs.

Included in this section: event organizer responsibilities, representation, funding, inclusive introductions, and full participation.

Event Organizer Responsibilities

Ask Yourself

  • Who is organizing the event and for whom is it for? 
  • Does the representation of the planning committee fit the need of this [event, program, training, etc.]? 
  • How will the focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion be emphasized?

Recommended Practices

  • Prior to hosting an event, set up a vetting process around the program’s purpose and the target audience. Having a diverse group of individuals review the motivation and structure of a program allows for organizers to identify any misguided motivation or unintended messaging.
  • Part of this vetting process could mean creating a planning committee that is representative of the audience and stakeholders. If your planning committee does not currently have a wide range of representatives, pause before moving forward and get more voices to the decision table.


Ask Yourself

  • Is there diversity (for example racial, gender, age) within my panelists/speaker(s)/presenters/facilitator(s)?
  • Do the presenters represent diverse thoughts and perspectives? 
  • Does the committee that selects presenters also reflect diverse thoughts and perspectives?

Recommended Practices

Diverse speakers can enrich events and lead to more robust conversations. Your planning committee should determine a selection process for panelists, presenters, and facilitators in order to acknowledge and address any lack of diversity.

The people on your agenda/event/panel/speaker(s)/presenter(s)/facilitator(s) should represent people from/with varying:

  • Abilities
  • Ages
  • Area of Expertise
  • Campus status (i.e., faculty, staff, postdoc, professional, graduate, and undergraduate)
  • Familial responsibilities
  • First languages
  • Gender
  • Indigenous communities
  • Political viewpoints
  • Racial and ethnic identities and citizenship statuses
  • Religious beliefs
  • Regional locations (e.g. provincial, territorial, global)

A selection process for panelist(s), presenter(s), and facilitator(s) should also consider researching speakers, or inviting guests to campus (to understand their particular context and their understanding and appreciation for accessibility)?

If the topic presented may be considered controversial in the current climate, then consideration for speaker and audience safety should be taken into account.


Ask Yourself

  • Do I have dedicated funds for inclusion and accessibility?

Recommended Practices

When preparing the event include funding for inclusion and accessibility into the budget. Line items for captioning, language and signed interpretation, print materials, and compensating speakers can all be written proactively into budgets and grants.

Content and Materials

Ask Yourself

  • As a panelist(s)/speaker(s)/presenter(s)/facilitator(s), are we providing our content in accessible ways to ensure we are creating an inclusive environment for everyone to participate?

Recommended Practices

  • Consider providing a content accessibility or support for panel(s)/speaker(s)/presenter(s)/facilitator(s) that includes the following recommendations for materials and presentations:
    • For attendees who are blind or who have low vision – have large print and Braille materials available.
    • Provide materials on a flash drive so that people needing to download information ahead of time can access materials.
    • For attendees who are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing – make your face available in case they want to read lips.
    • Always use a microphone – you never know when someone is using the hearing loop in your area. See the Microphone Use section of this guide.
    • Provide content and critical information in alternative languages. Use of the Language Interpretation and Translation section for this guide for detailed tips.
    • Provide accessible presentation materials and handouts and use the Event Materials and Digital Materials part of this Guide to facilitate the creation of those guidelines for your event or program.

Inclusive Introductions

Ask Yourself

  • How can I create the most open and welcoming environment?

Recommended Practices

Inclusive Introductions

When making personal introductions, consider demonstrating the following:

  • Your name
    • When possible, record a soundbite of the moderator/speaker pronouncing their first and last name as preparation for the event. This will help others hear how to correctly say their name.
  • Titles (avoid using any acronyms which create insider/outsider norms)
  • Your pronouns (as they feel comfortable)
  • Your visual description (again as you feel comfortable.)
    • Include race and/or skin-tone (detail and depth dependent on you), gender (i.e. woman, man, person, etc.), hair color/length/style (detail dependent on you), clothing (detail dependent on you), and background (detail dependent on you)
    • Visual Description provide access to information about people who are present in a room means an equitable experience for everyone. For a visually impaired person who has some level of sight, having descriptions of physical characteristics can help them recall individuals and identify them on a second meeting.
  • Example: Hello my name is Superman, I use he/him pronouns. I am a tall white man with short dark hair, green eyes, fair skin, and I am wearing [describe what you are wearing], and describe the setting [zoom – your space as you feel comfortable and/or the physical space the programming is taking place in].
  • Request of the moderator/speaker/facilitator any relevant demographic information (e.g., gender pronouns/education level) so that they may be addressed by their appropriate pronouns and titles)

Name Badges

Offer the option to wear a name tag with preferred names and pronouns (if desired). For communication and/or health comfort, you can consider also using a color system with your badges.

Content Warnings for Sensitive Material, Including Images and Discussion

Prior to hosting an event, showing a film or clip, reading an excerpt, etc., it is good practice to inform the audience members if something sensitive in nature will be discussed or shown. This acknowledgement allows participants to make their own, informed decision about how and in what ways they would like to engage.

  • Examples: Violence (individual, institutional, systemic), sexual content, drug and alcohol content, oppressive language, bodily trauma, self-harm, food and eating habits, blood and other bodily fluids, environmental disasters, flashing lights.

Full Participation

Ask Yourself

  • How do power dynamics influence individuals’ abilities to authentically participate?
  • How can you apply accessible structures or practices to support a participant’s ability to engage fully?

Recommended Practices

Power Dynamics

Ensuring that you know about social dynamics among your participants helps to create a space for participants to fully engage. Consider letting participants know prior to an event that if they do have a power dynamic that needs to be considered for their full participation that they may notify the event organizer and how that will be setup during event interaction (i.e., breakout rooms or table discussions).

Universal Design

Accessible event planning and universal design practices include: physical accessibility, sensory accessibility, and cognitive accessibility. Universal Design means people can fully participate within the design of the event or program. Physical accessibility, sensory accessibility, and cognitive accessibility must happen for everyone to be able to fully participate.

  • Physical Accessibility: The space has no barriers for wheelchair users and people with vision disabilities.
  • Sensory Accessibility: The event has taken into consideration people with sensory sensitivities.
    • Hearing and visual aids are available (sometimes overlaps with cognitive accessibility).
    • Offer low-sensory, relaxed environments, or other spaces that are friendly for those who are nondivergent and indicate these on marketing materials.
    • Considerations for people with chemical, noise, and light allergies and/or sensitivities.
      • Examples of accommodations for chemical and light sensitivities:
        • Fragrance free policies
        • No flash photography policies
        • ASL applause (or “flapplause”) instead of clapping
        • Noise cancelling ear muffs
        • Sensory free rooms
        • Working air conditioning
  • Cognitive Accessibility: Give clear information about the event. Strive to provide all material in different formats and plain language. Let people know what to expect in advance. For more information about what to include in Marketing materials review the Reducing Uncertainty and Sharing What To Expect part of this guide.
      • Examples of accommodations for cognitive accessibility:
        • Detailed schedule of the event provided on the website and/or during the event
        • Information Packets about the event
        • Present sessions in different ways (i.e. written and verbal instructions, visual aids such as photographs, drawings, and charts)
        • Use nametags for everyone
        • Make sure presentations are viewable from different angles
        • Allow people to move around

Everyone who comes to the event knows what to expect. Everyone knows, what the event is about, the schedule, where the event is, and what accommodations are available.

For the University’s official definitions and policies on accessibility, please visit: Accessibility at Iowa


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Inclusive Events and Programming Guide Copyright © by Authored collectively by the University of Iowa campus community is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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