Tim Groot is the CEO and founder of Grip, the first market engagement platform for event organizers to create virtual, hybrid and live event experiences in a single solution. Tim founded Grip in 2016 to help maximize the return on time invested from attendees and exhibitors attending industry events.
13 Tips to Improve Neurodiversity at Your Events
Making events easily accessible and inclusive for neurodiverse participants — like those with autism, ADHD, dyslexia and others — should be an essential consideration when planning any event, large or small. Let’s dive into how events could be tweaked to cater to everyone, no matter how your participants interact with the world around them.
Before planning any changes for your upcoming event, it’s important to understand what neurodiversity means and then consider the various types of neurodiverse individuals who may attend your event.
Neurodiversity is a concept that recognizes and celebrates the natural variation in human brain functioning and neurological differences. It promotes the idea that conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia and others are neurological variations rather than disorders or deficits.
Neurodiversity emphasizes the value and strengths of diverse cognitive styles and challenges the notion there is a single "normal" or "correct" way of thinking, learning or perceiving the world.
For event planners and organizers, understanding neurodiversity encourages acceptance and understanding. By adapting our event spaces, we can create an inclusive event where everyone's unique neurology is respected and appreciated.
Why It Matters
Prioritizing accessibility for your event is essential. It cannot be overlooked that around 20% of the global population is neurodiverse. Hence, event organizers must make every effort to ensure their event is inclusive of everyone.
When individuals feel accepted within a group, they can more effectively contribute to the community without worrying about exclusion. By sharing their unique ideas or experiences, they bring a distinctive perspective from their diverse backgrounds. This diversity ensures your event has lots of interesting angles being explored by participants via the content and meetings they arrange using your event app.
These interactions between neurodiverse individuals at your event could result in groundbreaking innovations. There’s research that backs this up. Simon Baron-Cohen’s latest book, The Pattern Seekers, explores why autism and invention are intimately related, with evidence revealing that autism has driven human progress for 70,000 years.
To deliver a neurodiverse-inclusive event, there are several strategies and adjustments you can make. Here are 13 tips to ensure your event caters to neurodiverse individuals as best as possible.
Start planning early for accessibility.
Ensure that all participants' needs are considered by asking for input on what will help make their event experience better. Be sure to act on their feedback. If you don't act on requests received, it can leave people feeling frustrated or excluded.
Provide clear instructions and share your agenda, ensuring all relevant information is communicated well before the event. Ensure any event announcements are made verbally and written with clear visuals so everyone can stay updated with your event plans and schedules.
Clearly define access options.
Provide clear information about access options, transport links, food outlets and restrooms, including any available assistance, so everyone attending can find the best route to access your event.
Also, clearly define details about your event, including detailed descriptions of what will happen during the event, expectations for participants and any rules or guidelines you want participants to follow. Clarity can help reduce anxiety for neurodivergent individuals, allowing them to organize their event activities better.
Allow for flexible seating.
Offer a variety of seating options, such as comfortable chairs, couches or beanbags. Allow attendees to choose their preferred seating arrangement and make it easier for those with sensory sensitivities to find a spot that works best for them.
Be mindful of sensory triggers.
Keep in mind that lighting, sound levels and other environmental factors may trigger certain neurodiverse individuals. To accommodate those with sensory issues, you can provide noise-canceling headphones or set the lights to an acceptable level. For example, sudden changes in event ambiance could cause much anxiety to those with sensory processing difficulties.
Provide a quiet area.
Create a quiet space away from the main event area to cater to those needing a break from the noise and stimulation. It’s a good idea to provide a designated chill-out area outside of the main event space (rather than a room on the show floor) that can be used by those needing peace and quiet.
Offer pre-scheduled meetings to reduce anxiety.
Offering pre-scheduled meetings to participants is an effective tactic to boost the engagement among individuals who may feel anxious without a complete plan for their event day. By doing this, you're improving the experience for your neurodiverse event participants and demonstrating better return on time for all participants by providing busy schedules with lots of meetings.
Use interactive floorplans.
Using an interactive floor plan helps provide attendees with easy-to-follow directions to quickly find what they need — such as meeting locations, theaters, quiet rooms and food outlets — without having to ask a member of the event team.
Update your event app regularly.
Many events still only make scheduled updates or changes on the digital signage around events.
Using the functionality of your digital event platform to update all attendees can be a great way to help everyone stay informed of any important changes. It may seem trivial, but for someone who relies on schedules to function clearly, updating your app regularly can reduce stress levels and ensure they make the most of their time at your event.
Use your event platform’s polling and Q&A features.
Some neurodivergent individuals find it harder to organize their thoughts and may shy away from using a microphone to ask questions or be involved in a session. Using your event platform's chat function or adding polls through the platform can be a great way to encourage engagement from those who may not feel comfortable speaking out.
Include visuals in your event communications.
Neurodiverse individuals may find it easier to digest visual information, such as images, videos and infographics, rather than text-heavy documents. Visual reminders will also ensure everyone knows the support available to them at your event.
Invite speakers who represent different groups.
By selecting a neurodiverse group of speakers, you'll create a more engaging and thought-provoking event. Your attendees will feel included and valued as they see "people like me" promoted at your event. Be mindful of bias when choosing your event speakers and strive for inclusivity.
Have volunteers ready to help.
Have volunteers available throughout the event who are trained in how to provide assistance to neurodiverse attendees. Ensure the volunteers wear easily identifiable clothing or badges, so attendees know whom to ask.
When in doubt about ensuring inclusivity for neurodiverse individuals at your next event, it's always best to ask questions. Ideally, enlist team members or an advisory board who are neurodiverse to offer valuable insights into your inclusivity strategy.
Whether you’re running a quantitative finance or quantum computing conference, ensuring an excellent event experience for all attendees is crucial to cater to the needs of neurodiverse individuals.