Conference or meeting room layout is vital to how participants interact during an event and contribute to its success. To ensure accessibility for all participants, including those with disabilities, certain best practices for the room layout should be followed.
Layout best practices
Know your audience
- If possible, find out how many expected attendees may have accommodation needs or requests.
- Obtain information in advance about how many participants may be accompanied by a personal assistant, so that seating for the assistant can be arranged prior to arrival.
- Choose the meeting room location on a floor that also has an accessible restroom. If it is not possible, provide for longer break times between program sessions.
- If the event involves the use of presentation screens, the layout should be such that the screens are easily viewable from every location in the meeting room. At least one or more screens should have captions running along with an audio-visual presentation.
- Accessible seating should be made available throughout the conference room to ensure participants with disabilities can select a location of their choice, just like other attendees.
- Create space for people who use scooters to remain seated in their scooter seats if desired. If an individual prefers to use a regular seat, provide space for keeping their scooter next to their seat.
- For people with hearing disabilities, include a seating plan with space for the interpreters.
Spacing and aisles
- If one in 10 participants is likely to use a mobility aid or a service animal, the meeting room should provide for about one-third extra space. Increase this space proportionately if the percentage is higher than 10%.
- Aisles should be at least three to six feet wide to accommodate the movement of people with mobility aids. Both vertical and horizontal aisles should be provided as far as possible to increase access.
- In the back of the event area, provide space where the participants can stretch or stand.
- If the meeting or presentation involves the use of a round table, consider the feasibility of semi-round seating to enable all attendees to look directly at the speaker or the screen.
- Mark the passage areas that should remain clear of any objects. Remind the attendees at the beginning of the event to not block the pathways with any bags or personal items.
- For participants with sensitivity to fluorescent lights, use incandescent lamps in a dedicated section.
- To protect participants with sensitivity to electrical charge, provide a separate area outside the conference room to recharge batteries.
Recommendations for a theater style event
When an event does not involve the use of tables or desks, provide sufficient space to improve accessibility. For example, aisle seats from the first two rows in the front, back and middle can be removed to provide for accessible seating. For every wheelchair space, it’s best to remove two standard chairs. The chairs must not be attached to each other so that participants can move or adjust them as required.
Recommendations for a classroom style event
Consider using the chevron style classroom set-up, which provides for more space and flexibility. This is a V-shaped arrangement, where the chairs and tables are positioned for a better line of vision for the participants and speakers. This plan will also afford a more convenient entry for people using mobility aids. Do not designate a separate area for people with disabilities, and make sure that multiple seating choices and access points are available.
Recommendations for a round table style event
Provide a minimum of three feet between round table aisles and six feet for side aisles. To accommodate people using mobility devices such as wheelchairs, reduce the number of round table settings to create additional space. For example, create a maximum of eight seating spaces for a round table of five feet and 10 spaces for a round table of six feet. A half-round table layout is ideal for this set-up so that every participant can directly face the presentation area.
Businesses and organizations that focus on preparing their teams as well as their facilities for accessibility will be able to deliver a more satisfying experience for all attendees.