Get the most out of inclusive event design

As a neurodivergent consultant, I love and hate networking events and conferences. My brain is curious and feeds off news ideas and people. I also notice and process e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g, which can be exhausting.

If we want to get serious about diversity, we need to create conditions where people with additional needs can contribute on equal footing with their participants. Mine is a neurodivergent perspective.  Please also consider interests and accommodations for participants who may have mobility, hearing, visual or other disabilities.

Things to consider when making your next event more neurodivergent-friendly:

Ask participants individually upon sign-up whether they need any accommodations. This will allow you to provide support, or let people know in advance if you cannot. Accommodations are not always possible, but when they are they tend to benefit everyone. These issues are complex, and every person is different; enquiring about accommodations is simple.

Make it easy to plan and know what to expect. Ideally, send out instructions with clear information, in both written and visual form, detailing the event venue, a programme, info on how to get there and facilities/services such as food, calm room, cloakroom, bathrooms etc.

Allow for differing preferences in communication and use tools such as Mentimeter/Slido to enable participants to ask questions in writing, instead of, or in addition to, live questions.

When asking people to engage in reflections, allow them to opt in rather than forcing them to partake or opt-out. This can depend on mood or topic as much as it depends on neurotype. I recommend using stickers that show whether a person is open to reflection in conversation or prefers silent brainstorming.

Consider minimising sensory overload. Bright lights and loud, crowded spaces can be too much for everyone, particularly your neurodivergent participants. Consider your use of light and sound. Create calm spaces for people to retreat to during your event. 

Not everyone loves surprises. Respect this by allowing people to be informed of a planned surprise ahead of time. Communicate any changes to your schedule as early as possible.

Provide visible support staff or a contact number of someone on location who can help, with experience of working alongside neurodivergent people, who can stand by if support is needed.

I hope my observations help you get the most out of your events by consciously designing for inclusion. Feel free to reach out, if you were able to apply some of my recommendations, or if you have any additional insights you would like to share.