By Sara Hawthorn,
The PR industry is stepping up its commitment to making our profession more diverse. As a deaf PR agency owner, without a uni degree and who grew up in a council flat, the inclusion of more diverse people including disabled, BAME, LGBTQ+, and those from different socio-economic backgrounds is a subject close to home.
Changing the statistics is a slow journey, particularly in terms of disability, but we must start somewhere. From my own experiences, events are one area we can quickly implement positive actions to encourage and foster inclusivity in PR. As someone who has additional requirements, here’s a checklist of steps I’d love to see more PR pros take when planning and running events.
- Recognise that you don’t know what you don’t know about accessibility
If you don’t have a specific need it’s unlikely an associated requirement will randomly pop into your brain when planning an event, e.g. if you don’t have hearing loss you probably won’t think to ask about a loop system. If you have an event planning checklist create a detailed accessibility section which includes more than just ‘wheelchair accessible’, and ask around if you’re not sure what needs to be listed – disability charities or organisations can help with this.
- Give people the option to tell you what they need
In addition to your own planning checklist, consider giving attendees the option to tell you what requirements they may have. Think of how often you see a ‘dietary requirements’ option, compared to how often you see a similar choice to disclose accessibility needs. Make it a box on a sign-up form, make it clear that people can contact you about their needs. Adding this shows that you are, at the very least, trying to create an inclusive event.
- Interrogate your venue organisers
The perfect venue is only perfect if everyone can participate in the event. Remember to ask for details on the provisions the venue has in place for those with different accessibility needs, don’t rely on what’s on their website or promotional material as it’s often not detailed enough or extremely hard to find. Which leads on to…
- Publicise the accessibility information
Once you have the information list it somewhere that’s easy to find, include it on an event homepage, on invite emails, on social media channels. I cannot stress how frustrating it is to hunt for accessibility information when planning on attending any kind of event. It is, ironically, often inaccessible. Critically, the more visible your efforts to cater to different needs, the more likely we are to feel included and wanted at your event.
- Know your numbers
If you have 50 people attending an event, consider that around 10 will have a disability of some kind. A fifth of your audience may need additional requirements and your public approach to inclusivity could be key to those people feeling able to ask for what they need and delivering a truly inclusive event for all.
If we are, as a sector, upping our game on diversity then tackling inclusivity is a must. It we’re going write endless thought pieces on encouraging more diverse people to be part of our industry we cannot then make them feel like an afterthought, or worse, remain ignorant of their needs through lack of action in something as basic as events. Real change will come through action, to borrow the famous words of Emmeline Pankhurst – deeds not words – will determine how serious our commitment to diversity and inclusion really is.
Sara Hawthorn is director of InFusion Comms. Her career in media has been diverse covering journalism, copywriting, blogger-in-residence, and PR pro. She founded InFusion to provide a flexible and alternative agency model and to show that disability need not be a barrier to success in the PR industry.