Association Conventions & Facilities: Special Needs Require Special Attention

May 19, 2016 | News & Press

the meeting magazines

By Marilyn Weber

How to Plan a Conference That Accommodates Deaf Attendees

Marilyn L. Weber, President/CEO of Deaf Interpreter Services Inc. (DIS) headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a certified sign language interpreter and has an adult daughter who is deaf. Marilyn has been working for more than 25 years promoting accessible communication and advocating for the rights of the deaf community. She has interpreted in thousands of professional situations, and conducts deaf awareness workshops, cultural diversity training and ADA Compliance Consulting. Marilyn has over 2,900 hours of related professional training. Marilyn has received several awards from various local and national organizations recognizing her work and dedication to the deaf community.

Conference planners have a million different tasks on their to-do lists. From working with multiple groups in different cities to finding the coolest new venues, planning around people’s specific food and beverage requests and helping handle transportation issues, it’s a seemingly never-ending list. One factor that doesn’t come up as much as some of the other basics ­— but is extremely important ­— is planning for conference attendees with disabilities. There are a few extra steps that planners can consider that assist with planning a conference where deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees feel welcome and are considered as fully participating members of the event.

One of the best places to start looking to find local interpreters is reaching out to the Chamber of Commerce in the conference host city. Planners should be able to get a pre-reviewed and certified list of interpreting companies to assist with deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees. The Chamber also should have contacts for a planner looking into services for blind attendees, handicapped guests or anyone else with special needs.

Insurance Is Key

One of the most important criteria when considering hiring a company to provide sign language and oral interpreting is to ensure that they have all of the necessary insurance. Ideally a company should have the complete general liability package. Included in this package are all of the necessities from errors and omissions to liability. This coverage is a must have when dealing with a professional group of interpreters.

You’ll want to make sure that the interpreting company you are working with has a large enough team to cover any last-minute incidences, such as a medical issue with an interpreter. Working with a large interpreting staff means that the team can easily replace an interpreter and provide you with the adequate number needed for your event.

An onsite interpreter coordinator is required for any event with more than one deaf attendee. The onsite interpreter coordinator is similar to an air traffic controller at an airport. They handle coordinating the scheduling between the interpreting team and deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees. The coordinator is responsible for making sure that everyone is covered 100 percent at every event.

Another important thing to consider when deciding which team to work with is confirming that the company has worked at similar type of and size events. For instance, a company that primarily handles interpreting for students at education events won’t necessarily have the skill set to handle a full day at a conference with thousands of attendees and the experience of platform interpreting. Don’t forget to ask the company for references.

Don’t Ever Assume

For conference sessions that are more than an hour, a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual should have two interpreters available to work together and interpret in shifts. No matter how much advance planning and scheduling that people do, it’s almost guaranteed that attendees will want to alter their plan and decide to attend other sessions. It’s critical that planners don’t ever assume that several of their deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees will plan to attend the same sessions. Just like everyone else attending the conference, these attendees should have the option to go to whichever sections they choose, and to change their minds about the sessions without a moment’s notice.

Then, if you expect an international audience attending your conference, you want to make sure that the interpreting company is familiar with different languages. Spanish Sign Language is quite different from American Sign Language!

Deaf attendees are a culturally diverse group, and it’s important that the interpreters you work with are familiar with the community. Interpreting is far more than just knowing how to sign. An interpreting company should have a full understanding of the unique cultural group. While there are federal laws requiring accessible communication, many organizations go above and beyond to truly understand this unique group.

With all of the miscellaneous items to be accounted for and planned around at events, making sure that you accommodate all of the attendees should be at the very top of the list. Plus, conferences marketing that sign language interpreters are available upon request automatically have a new audience of attendees who might not have thought about it otherwise.

When conference planners consider the broad range of their attendees and choose to plan ahead to accommodate them accordingly, both the conference organizers and attendees with disabilities benefit, leaving the conference-goers with a positive and memorable experience.  AC&F


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