How to host a neuro-inclusive event
A neuro-inclusive event is planned in a way that’s accessible and safe for different neurological types.
By supporting and including a wider range of people, you can help prevent neurodiverse people feeling isolated and add valuable diversity to your event.
Alex Palmer, founder of Kina Events, says:
Conversations about diversity and inclusion often refer to people of different genders, races, religious beliefs and sexual preferences.
“But the needs of neurodivergent people are too often forgotten, even though it’s estimated that more than 15% of people in the UK are neurodivergent.
“I think the events industry needs to make more effort to make events neuro-inclusive, increasing participation and making events a more welcoming and rewarding experience for everyone.”
What does neurodivergent mean?
There are two types of neuro functioning which are known as neurotypical and neurodivergent.
Neurodivergent peoples’ brains function, learn and process information differently.
It’s not a mental illness, but a condition that occurs either before the person is born or when the brain is developing in early childhood.
Examples of neurodivergent conditions include:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Some people with neurodivergent conditions may face challenges, but also have many strengths.
These can include attention to detail, excellent long term memory and a distinctive imagination.
Challenges which may be relevant to attending an event can include:
- A strong desire for routine and structure
- Difficulty with social interaction
- Sensory overload caused by noise, lights, temperatures, smells and textures.
Advice for planning an neuro-inclusive event
Here are some steps you can take to help neurodivergent people feel confident about attending your event:
- Communicate what you’re doing. From the start, share that you’re organising a neuro-inclusive event in your marketing to all potential attendees and explain why it’s important to increase understanding and raise awareness. Communicate some of the measures you’re taking to support neurodivergent people (and ensure you actually deliver them) to help people feel confident enough to sign up. Individuals may not feel comfortable being open about their condition and the accommodations they need, so the more information you can provide about the measures you’re taking to support them the better
- Plan your event environment. Consider potential temperature changes, for example will attendees need to move between indoor and outdoor locations? Try to avoid this or provide alternatives and let people know about them in advance. Remove unnecessary loud noises, turn down the volume of background music (or consider having no music or having an advertised period of time with no music) and remove bright lights
- Create a quiet room. This can help people rest their senses in a safe space with no noise, dim lighting, lots of personal space and no strong smells. You can provide headphones to further cancel out noise, listen to music, or allow attendees to listen to event sessions remotely, away from crowds of people, visual effects and bright lights. Include moveable partitions so people can create their own private space that suits their needs. Another option is to provide fidget toys, ear plugs and sunglasses for those who would like them. Make it clear the quiet room is a respite area from event-related activities and not a place for meetings or phone calls
- Avoid smelly food. Strong smells can cause overstimulation, so think carefully about your menu. Ask your attendees if they have special dietary requirements and ensure you let them know they’ll be catered for. Give priority access to refreshments and meals to those who need it, and allow food to be eaten in the quiet room. Be aware that bright colours can cause sensory over-stimulation, so when choosing your event venue or decor, opt for muted colours
- Accommodate stimming. Some neurodivergent people engage in self stimulatory behaviour like rocking, blinking a lot or repeating words. Consider providing an environment where attendees can feel comfortable when stimming as this can help people self-soothe if they need to
- Provide extra detail. It can help some people to know exactly what will happen and when in detail, so provide a plainly-worded, detailed schedule of the event in advance. This should include the time when attendees can start arriving, start and finish times for each part of the event, detailed information about the event venue, including maps, pictures and written directions. Make it clear that maps, arrows, different flooring colours and textures and signs will also help attendees find their way once they’re at the venue. If it will be acceptable to get up and walk around if an attendee needs to – or to take other measures that may be necessary for their comfort – communicate this before the event. Provide guidance on opportunities for social interaction and expectations at the event, for example if and when you can ask questions. Ask speakers to repeat this steer about when questions will be taken at the beginning of their speaking slot. Badges could be used to indicate whether individuals are open to networking and social engagement or not
- Provide speakers’ materials in advance. It can help some people to process information better if they have the slides in front of them at the same time as listening to a presentation. It can also help provide recordings, subtitles and transcripts for those who learn better through reading or prefer to go at their own pace. In fact (especially if you have a panel or discussion around diversity and inclusion as part of your event), consider including a neurodivergent speaker if you can
- Train your staff or work with a specialist agency. This will reassure your participants that support from people who fully understand their needs will be available if they need help. You could also offer an optional buddy system so neurodivergent people can support each other during the event, reducing social anxiety
- Ask for feedback. There will always be elements of your event that can be improved, especially if you’re organising a neuro-inclusive event for the first time. Ask questions before, during and after the event, perhaps via anonymous surveys, as well as having staff asking for feedback at the event itself.
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