Access all areas

The British Polio Fellowship is demanding that the organisers of the Cannes Film Festival act in the wake of what the fellowship believes are discriminatory acts against those with disabilities.

Film producer, Valeria Richter, who has part of her left foot amputated, was rejected from attending the event “because she wasn’t wearing high heels”.

Ms Richter, who wouldn’t have been physically able to keep her balance with high heels after having her big toe and parts of her left foot amputated, was left embarrassed after being refused entry.

But according to one Dublin-based event organiser, poor access for delegates with disability is not just a matter of embarrassment.

CJ Walsh, conference organiser at Fire Ox International, believes that conference delegates with disabilities could die because UK and European venues are not taking their safety seriously.

He raised his concerns after an international conference on ensuring the safety of disabled people in burning buildings had to switch venue due to concerns over the safety of disabled delegates.

The conference, Fire Safety for All, was scheduled to be held in the Printworks building in the lower courtyard of Dublin Castle. The conference organiser said he discovered a raft of problems with disability access, which compromised the safety of delegates. The faults, he claimed, included poor positioning of the access ramp, bollards blocking vehicular access to the ramp, deficiencies in the tactile information for visually impaired people and no visual fire alarm for hearing-impaired people.

The event, attended by more than 300 delegates, was moved to the nearby Radisson Blu Hotel.

Walsh told CN: “When Dublin Castle was refurbished during the Irish presidency of the EU, the audiovisual equipment was improved but nothing was done about the atrocious access for people with disabilities. When I wrote about the venue on my blog, Dublin Castle complained and the professional conference organiser rang me up and told me to take the information off my site.”

Anja Fischer, conference organiser at Abbey Conference and Corporate, was the PCO for the event.

She told CN: “I haven’t followed up with Dublin Castle because I did not want to get between the venue and Mr Walsh. The Office of Public Works was annoyed with him. I cannot comment on access issues in Dublin or elsewhere because I have not looked into it.”

A spokeswoman for The OPW told CN that the Printworks is fully compliant with the latest building regulations.

Arnold Fewell, managing director at AVF Marketing Ltd, and a spokesman on disability issues, told CN: “The conference venues that look after people with disabilities have a long way to go especially in the area of safety in an emergency. The issues are often common sense but the problem is the sense is not that common. There does seem some sort of malaise in conference venues that have not realised that one disabled person can influence the location of a conference of any size and the business case must be a significant driver for making conference venues accessible.”

Tracey Proudlock

Tracey Proudlock , at Proudlock Associates, has put together a checklist for planning an event


1 Planning – think inclusively about attendees, staff, chairpersons, speakers, performers and exhibitors who may be disabled people.

2 The venue – visit the venue first. Is there an access statement or access management plan available that explains how disability is accommodated in the building? Use a checklists or toolkits for assessing the different provisions, such as an access audit checklist from the Centre for Accessible Environments

3 Transport – getting there and getting away

  • Remember that if you are providing transport it should be for everyone. Suppliers / drivers should confirm that they are disability aware.
  • Check that there is adequate Blue Badge parking on-site and locally.
  • Check that there is a safe set-down and pick-up point for taxis, private cars and minibuses. If you are providing contacts for local taxis make sure they have accessible vehicles available if needed.

4 Promoting the event

  • If you are using web-based material, check it is fully accessible with the range of specialist hardware and software which disabled people use.

5 Tickets, booking and reservations

  • Ensure wheelchair users are allocated appropriate spaces and those with ambulant disabilities are also given suitable seats.

6 Support workers

  • Support workers are there to enable a disabled person to fulfil their own choices and will only attend to the requirements of the person they are there to support. Each situation will be different but you could consider not charging admission, charging a reduced ticket rate for support workers or just charging to cover basic costs such as catering. Remember there may be a number of people with support workers wanting to attend, and organising support for disabled people can reduce the need for people to bring their own.

7 The team

  • Venue staff should ensure they know how to check and maintain the facilities for disabled people such as loop systems and how to use evacuation chairs if needed. They should add value to the event with a positive attitude and be able to respond effectively to challenges arising during the day.

8 Sound, lighting and other technology

  • Ensure that the Public Address (PA) system is connected to hearing enhancement, if needed, 
and that microphones, 
etc are appropriate for everyone to use.
  • The PA should also be accessible for those providing language support, of course, and preferably these people should be given advance notice of announcements so that they can be prepared to translate quickly.


  • Provide staff assistance for self-serve.
  • Ensure wheelchair users can sit up to tables and get their knees between table legs.



Conference News resides at the heart of the conference industry examining the issues affecting organisers, venues, destinations and suppliers. Published monthly, Conference News features the latest news, interviews and industry analysis from market influencers.

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