Making Events Accessible for Everyone

by | Mar 9, 2022

Do you want your next fundraiser to be accessible for anyone who wants to attend, but don’t know where to start?

This week on A Modern Nonprofit, Dr. Daniela Ferdico joins us to talk about sensory disabilities and how to make your special events accessible for everyone.

Dr. Ferdico is the Co-Founder of Sensory Access and is a global leader in inclusion and accessibility.

In this episode, you’ll discover…

  • The #1 way to make your events more accessible (5:52)
  • What resource every accessible event must have (6:57)
  • 5 things to consider when designing accessible events (11:41)
  • How providing the right information to attendees automatically makes an event more accessible for everyone (19:40)

Thanks for watching. Be sure to subscribe for new episodes every week!

For more nonprofit accounting resources check out www.thecharitycfo.com

For more information on how to make events accessible for everyone, visit www.sensoryaccess.org to learn more.

🎧 Click here to listen to the Podcast on  AnchorFM or Apple Podcasts

👇 Or scroll below the to read the full transcript of our conversation

 

 


A Modern Nonprofit Podcast

Making Events Accessible for Everyone

3/9/2022

Tosha Anderson:

Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of a modern nonprofit podcast. I’m Tosha Anderson. I’ll be your host today, but we’re not gonna be talking about accounting today. We’re gonna be talking about something else that I find really interesting. Daniela, I, I, I saw your bio and I saw your work. And I was really interested in dive into this conversation because I’ve been working in the nonprofit space for many, many years. I’ve been aware and had many conversations about having, um, awareness and intentionality around people with all different sorts of backgrounds, um, abilities. And I also attend a lot of events and we try to marry those two things together. So I was really interested to hear a little bit more about, um, your work and what you’re talking about. And for those of you that have not had a chance to meet you yet, uh, I brought bringing on my friend, Dr. Daniela Ferdico, and she is working with, um, kind of bringing awareness to the space on sensory and making sensory, um, accessible to people or making events accessible to people that might struggle with, you know, sensory disorders and, and other things that might be difficult for them, um, for, for other people that may not have that. So you created, um, sensory access. Tell us a little bit about that and, you know, tell us why that might be relevant to the nonprofit world or to everyone’s world, frankly.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

Sure, certainly. So, yeah, we started my daughter and I, um, started sensory access, um, gosh, in 2017 now, um, way before there were any thoughts of a pandemic coming our way. Um, and you know, what we kind of learned through being really active in the community. So lots of theater, lots of musicals, um, sports events we travel attend. Um, my son is autistic, my daughter’s neurodivergent. So am I. And so we really try to push the envelope of, to build our cognitive flexibility by putting ourselves into as many situations as we can. And that, that, you know, it’s uncomfortable sometimes, but it really helps build that cognitive flexibility. What we notice is that a lot of these events we went to is that a lot of people really struggled. So let’s say, you know, you were at a theater event and there’s a family there in part way through, they have to leave because they can’t handle the bright flashing lights or a big surprise moment that happens during that show.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

Or, um, there was another incident where we took our son who’d been wanting and wanting to go to this practice camp for the Seahawks, and he’d just been waiting to go. We finally got tickets, we went there and it was so sensory overwhelming from all the, you know, adult men kind of pushing around to the, and the lights. It was so overwhelming. We’ve been there five minutes. He’s been waiting for months and he’s like, I gotta go home. I can’t be here. And it was just like us seeing him wanting to do something so badly and then not getting the opportunity, like other people there to do it. And we were able to kind of make some different things, work from some really nice people there that allowed him to access the space where there wasn’t the crowding and the, of pushing and, and everything.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

And, and my daughter, and I just started thinking like, why isn’t that more, you know, common, why is there accessibility for some things? So for someone, you know, that has a mobility difficulty, but rarely do I see accessibility options for someone who is hard of hearing or blind, that’s happening a little bit more, but you don’t see that as often. And then you certainly barely ever see accessibility for individuals that are autistic or have down syndrome, or have sensory differences, differences in how their brain processes, sensory information, so that, you know, crowding and light and sounds really do become incapacitating. Right. Um, and so that’s why we created sensory access. Um, and we, you know, I’ve been part of the events world for a long time. And so that tends to be our focus as travel and events, um, because that’s what we know the best and really trying to figure out what are some tools and some awareness we can create in that world to make events accessible to everyone, because everyone should have the opportunity to, you know, be with their community and watch a show, see a concert, you know, alongside everybody else, not segregated off somewhere else.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

And so that’s our goal is to make all of these things happen for everyone.

Tosha Anderson:

Yeah, it’s so interesting because I was thinking how many times I’ve worked with organizations that work with populations. It would fall in the, under any of those categories that you had mentioned, and they themselves hold events. I used to work for an organization that, that held, um, events. And I would definitely say in hindsight, looking back that, um, I guess the right word would be, um, sensitivity to other people’s limited sensory, whether it’s visual or like you said, hearing, or just sudden movements and sounds, and, and, and lights and all of these things weren’t really taken into consideration. And I think it’s one of those things. A lot of people just don’t think about it, but maybe they should be thinking about it more. Absolutely. Yeah. Which brings, I think

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

In the non profit world, there’s so many of events that happen, right? Yeah. So we have fundraisers all the time in the nonprofit world. And is there a thought that goes into making sure that everyone has access to those, you know, the guests, the artists that are presenting or, you know, creating entertainment, you know, is it accessible to them, is the art form or whatever, you know, usually a lot of times that a fundraiser, you might have something that you wanna wow. The audience. Well, sometimes that wow factor includes lots of, you know, sensory impact, which is great for creating an impact, but you wanna make sure that’s an, um, accessible impact for everybody.

Tosha Anderson:

So speaking of that, what are you doing to make events more accessible? Because when I start thinking about this accessibility and I, and I don’t know if I’m alone, but I’m starting to think, okay, what kind of, you know, you can go down the path of being sensitive to all the different accessibility needs. Right. Where do you kind of get started? How do you make events more accessible? Where should you kinda start from, or what should be the baseline that you should be starting from? Yeah. Um, and then kind of going upwards from there. So what are you doing, um, or helping with, I should say to help make, keep events more accessible.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

So I think in general, if you are putting together an event, I mean, I think the first, most important thing is to really speak to people, you know, either experts in that field of accessibility or experts, you know, or people that come from that perspective, right? Cause we don’t wanna design an environment or an event for someone that’s autistic or hard of hearing without having someone from that community, be part of that decision making process, right? There’s this, you know, phrase nothing about us without us, right. That a lot of people in the disability community say like, Hey, if you’re gonna create something to help us, let us be part of that decision making and show you what we need instead of some higher up somewhere deciding what we need. Right. So for us, for example, at sensory access, we’re all neurodivert. And we have individuals that are heart of hearing and have visual impairments, etc on our staff that we consult with.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

So that’s a really important piece. I think really, almost any environment can be made sensory accessible. I mean, we’ve, um, made Lollapalooza a music festival accessible across a couple different places on the globe. We’ve just recently been working with the world’s fair, uh, which is in Dubai this time around, and that is the first ever accessible sensory accessible. Uh, world’s fair. Um, and we do that through a variety of things. The most important thing I think is providing information. So if your person who’s bring in processes, sensory information differently, usually more, um, you know, strongly, and it has more of an impact on you. What you don’t want is to be surprised. So if I wanted to say, if I’m at the worlds fair and I want to go look at the Italy pavilion, I have no idea what to expect. I might go in and it might be really peaceful as I walk in and I might turn a corner and one room and all of a sudden there’s strobing flashing, light and big sounds and an immersive 360 degree video.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

And I have a complete, you know, panic, right? Because I can’t handle that environment. So part of what we do at sensory access is any given event or environment is we go through and we bring our team of autistic and sensory processing individuals through an environment and we rate it. So we rate it on, you know, audio, including taking decibal levels, um, visual, tactile sent, you know, sometimes there is sense in places that we wouldn’t expect and someone could be sensitive to that. So we go through all of that and then we create a sensory rating card that lets anyone that’s about to go through a space or an event. No, like, Hey, before you go through this, here’s some places a, you know, here’s all the places and here’s what their sensory impact is. So then that person can decide, okay, maybe I can do the whole thing, or maybe I avoid that one room because I don’t like that.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

I don’t want my brain experiencing that. Right. Or maybe I go through that room, but I put my headphones on or I put my sunglasses on or whatever that individual needs to make it through an experience. So now all of a sudden they have it for ahead of time. They can enjoy it alongside their family or friends or community. They don’t have to be segregated out, but they have everything that they need in order to do that safely. Right. And that makes a, a big, big difference, um, at some place like Lollapalooza, for example. And if not everybody knows, that’s a huge music festival that’s done in Chicago, in the us and then all over the world. Um, what we do is we have staff members at every stage. Um, so in case there is someone in the crowd that is starting to struggle that, you know, we know who they are ahead of time and we can kinda help them navigate that.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

We have, um, sensory friendly areas where they can come. We have a whole tented area with special seating and headphones and earplugs and fidgets and, you know, sensory chairs. Um, so they can come and kind of take a sensory break and then go back out and to where it is really, really crazy. But now that their sensory sets, uh, system has reset, they can, you know, feel like they can do that. So it’s all about, you know, giving someone the choices that they can make for themselves in how they can regulate their sensory environment, even in places where, you know, the norm is kind of a crazy environment, as long as you have a place to kind of retreat true for a little bit. And you also know what to expect. That’s most of the battle right there.

Tosha Anderson:

I think that’s really interesting to kind of map through an event and almost kind of, even on a smaller scale, because we work with a lot of really small social service agencies, but I’m just thinking as, and I’ve been to many non-profit events that they can control. Right. And I just think as I’m going through the experience, even just the original entry way of going in and lots and lots of people and lots of busyness and where am I going? Am I going the right place? Very overwhelming, even for people that, that maybe aren’t sensitive to some of these, you know, unexpected moments during that time. And then, you know, it’s just, okay, what do I gotta do? I have to go here and I have to go there and then allow music and the band playing and, and all these sorts of things. So I really like the idea of mapping through your event. Um, even if it’s a smaller event, just to kind of think what would any person be experiencing and how would other people, I take this and would it be really difficult? And I know, um, sometimes audio is really mad in events. So I’m imagining, like having texts written up on, um, the projector screen so people can follow along otherwise, um, may not be able to hear, um, whether, because, and it’s a good backup plan too, because if the audio doesn’t work, then Hey, everybody wins. So, um, I love that.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

It kinda goes back to the idea of universal design, right? The idea of universal design is you create something for everyone. And when you create something for everyone that includes people with different types of, you know, disabilities and abilities and et cetera. And so your example is a perfect example, right? If I’m going to just a small nonprofit event, but I don’t know how to get there, what, which one is the entrance? Where do I go to register? What is the sound gonna be like, what am I expecting? Is there entertainment? What is it gonna be like? So in that instance, usually we create what we call a social narrative. So we’ll meet with a meeting, um, you know, facilitators and we’ll say, okay, we’re gonna come and we’re gonna take pictures of the front door. We’re gonna take pictures of where the setup, the registration tables gonna be.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

We wanna schedule of events. We wanna find out what is the sound gonna be like, if someone sounds sensitive, maybe they wanna sit near the back. If they have some visual impairments, maybe they wanna sit up post, can we have, you know, either, um, captions or an ASL interpreter, or what are some of the things that we can bring into this event to make it accessible for everyone? And there are some really easy, small things, including the social narrative, which is such as simple thing to do, um, to really make it more accessible. And then everybody wins from that. I like most people would love to have a document that says, Hey, you’re gonna go here. It looks like this. This is what’s gonna happen. Right. That’s helpful for everyone. No, not just that, you know, percentage of, of people that have disabilities. And so I think in the end, going back to the idea of universal design, um, is really, really helpful.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

But again, it also needs to be done in a way that is helpful and, um, kind, you know, what I see a lot of times is I see these social stories that are written for autistic individuals on social, say something like, oh, here’s a social study or a, a social narrative for a museum. But for some reason, most of the ones I see it, there are written as if they’re written to a five year old, you know, I’m gonna go to the museum and I’m gonna do this, which is great for the small population of young children that might read that social story, but an autistic adult or autistic teenager, right. You’re gonna be offended by that. Right. Because they don’t want to read something in that. And so I think it’s really important, again, involve the very group of people that you want to help. Right. So have someone come in and create these accessibility things for you that is coming from that perspective. So it’s done respectfully and hopefully, and with the idea of something that is helpful for everyone.

Tosha Anderson:

I, I love that example that you gave, because I think sometimes people think, and one of the things that comes to my mind, we have a local circus and they have, you know, a, a kinda a sensory accessible, um, event every year. It’s like, you know, of all of them, you know, just like they have like a, a op show. They also have a sensory, um, sensitive show. And I think when people think of things like this, I’m not, maybe I’m just projecting. Cause I’m thinking of the, the circus, it’s a, that the children can’t handle the overstimulation of what they’re doing and what they’re experiencing, but you bring up a really great point. There are many adult I would like to have a manual that tells me who, what, when, where, why, what do I, you know, it’s kind of joke. I, I tell people I’m not the writer driver, I’m the ride along ask 10,000 questions. What are we doing? What am I eating? What am I coming back? Like, what’s going, who will be there? I need to know all of the questions. And I really like what you had said. And I think I, and maybe I’m projecting a little bit think sometimes people assume small children, but could be absolutely, absolutely adults that have, you know, the need to understand these things as well and speak in a town that would be respectful of any adult. Um, so I, I really like that. So

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

Yeah,

Tosha Anderson:

A lot of the stuff you talk about, it’s not just because, you know, you yourself for your daughter or your son, as you had mentioned, have, you know, any sort of disability or neurodiverse, but you actually have a background in studying how the brain works. Yes. And helping people coach through that. So you’re a neuropsychologist. And I’m curious to know through your own lived experience of your family, as well as your background, how have you leveraged that background? Like, well, I’m not just, you know, lived it, but I’ve learned it through my education. How do you bring that to the forefront of your event planning? What do you use there?

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

That’s a really good question. Um, so yeah, I, I mean, I’ve been a neuropsychologist since 1999 now. Um, and I’ve always been fascinated by, you know, how our brain works, but specifically with how do we process the world, you know, how do we process when we see things, um, or process information differently? Um, whether that’s our attitude in life or that, you know, this specifically what we’re talking about now, which is that sensory processing piece. Right. And I, I think a lot of people still unfortunately make that assumption that like, well, what is the sensory processing like, oh, okay. It’s it? You know, they just think it’s a little louder. No, our brain is very much capable of processing things in different ways in their, you know, study after study has been done that some individuals really do process in that part of their brain, you know, where process sensory, they process it differently.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

It is more impactful to them. And so it is, you know, really difficult to make it through, um, certain types of environments. And so I try to do some education on, you know, depends on my audience, right. Sometimes we’ll get down and talk about neuroanatomy. Um, sometimes we’ll bring real life examples. Um, and then in terms of my I practice, so I have a private practice still where I still do diagnosis. I work with kids all the way up through in their twenties. And so I work a lot with them and with their families. And I hear so many stories about, you know, we never travel, we never go to Disneyland. We can’t do that. We could never do that. And it’s like, oh my gosh, no, let me tell you how you can do that. You deserve to go, you could do you, you should be able to do all the things everybody else does.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

And here’s how right. And so I, it kind of goes back and forth through all of the schooling and education and experiences I bring to, you know, I bring that to sensory access. And then of course the stuff I do at sensory access flows into my practice as well, and really trying to give people this hope and this energy to try some of these things and like trying different ways of making it through those experiences. And I think, you know, having this really odd experience of, you know, kind of my, um, educational background and my personal experiences at least makes for a really rich point of view.

Tosha Anderson:

Yeah, absolutely. I, I couldn’t agree more. Yeah. I couldn’t agree more with, you know, there is always something to have in the educational component, but then you coupled that with real life I’ve lived it I’ve had to navigate it. Um, personally with my children, um, you know, I’ve successfully traveled or I’ve successfully done this or that experience, um, while still navigating some of those waters is makes it so much more credible and relatable relatable for so many parents. So, you know, I think in the nonprofit world, we see the value of, you know, being, and I think sometimes we probably still miss the mark on so many different things. And this conversation really, I was really interested about this conversation and the topic when, when it was, you know, when I was reading through all the, the prep materials. And I think it’s an area where we maybe just don’t think about it as much as we should.

Tosha Anderson:

Um, and obviously inclusivity is important, but I’m curious to know from your perspective why this is so important with sensory and maybe elaborate a little bit more on, because I think some people think sensory, they think, um, on the autism spectrum, or you had mentioned some like visual or hearing, maybe some other examples that, oh, I didn’t think about that as being inclusive or not inclusive. Right. Uh, I think we can all agree it’s important, but what are some of those other, um, you know, disabilities that you are referencing and, and why those are so important to kind of think about and not lose sight of just because they’re not, you know, as mainstream as maybe we think they are, they’re not as impactful or not as many people suffer from them as we think.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

Well, I think for me, the most important thing is to again, be really specific with information, right? So when you’re, for example, asking about different disabilities, you know, it can be someone who has epilepsy as, as an example, right? We don’t necessarily think about that, but usually there’s, you know, a stroke warning, like, oh, if you go into this building, there will be flashing lights or this movie, but you’ve now by doing that, made the entire thing completely inaccessible to that person with photos, sensitive epilepsy, what should happen instead? You know, if it’s a movie or if it’s, um, an event or an experience to say, Hey, in this one room over here, there’s strobing like, or, um, one hour we into this show, they’re strobing light that allows that person to go in, enjoy it for whatever period of time. And then when they know the strobing is coming up, either put on sunglasses, if that’s helpful enough to them or leave the, that experience for the moment and then go back.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

But when we just say like, oh, this has strobing, sorry, that’s not helpful. That’s not inclusive because you’re saying the entire, your experience is not now within reach for that person. Right. And so, same thing, if we go through an experience, if we were just to say, oh, well this experience, this music festival or this, you know, evening of nonprofit, you know, fundraising is gonna be loud. So just so you know, that is not helpful or inclusive information, we need to give specific information. So individuals that have the disabilities can make choices for themselves and can choose what accommodations they need in order to be able to attend that experience, instead of basically being told you can’t attend, right. There’s a huge difference there. And I think that’s why it’s so important to provide that information.

Tosha Anderson:

Absolutely. So if somebody were, you know, wanting to do a little self audit of their events or events, maybe that they participate in and say, Hey, you might think about this. Um, you had mentioned before that you work with some pretty large events or venues, um, that, that put on, you know, events that are more accessible to people or trying to be more accessible to people. If somebody wanted to chat with you, follow along with your work, read more about you, um, where would be the best place to find that information. If somebody’s like, this is completely slipped off my radar and I need it to be on my radar, where would be the best place people can chat with you?

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

Uh, probably the best place is our website. Um, you know, we have some examples of our work there. Um, just kind of an explanation of what we do, the different certifications that we offer if someone wants to have a certification of event. So everything’s there, um, it’s sensoryaccess.org,

Tosha Anderson:

Sensoryaccess.org. Excellent. So you yourself are a nonprofit, huh?

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

Yes, absolutely.

Tosha Anderson:

Okay. Excellent. Excellent. So great. Any, any last, you know, pieces of advice that nonprofit leaders could be, um, kind of taken into consideration when they’re thinking I really love what you’re saying. I don’t even know how to get started. I’m really overwhelmed or any other pieces of advice that you’ve learned, not just running your organization, but also through a sensory lens, working with other organizations, any final bits of advice that you might give to, um, leaders of organizations that might be that in hearing this and looking to be more progressive in the work that they’re doing in the events that they hold.

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

Absolutely. I think, you know, the most important thing is just to have it as part of your design process for an event, when you’re planning an event, think about how can I make this accessible to everyone. And then it, it sounds overwhelming, but it’s really not. If you talk to someone like myself or I there’s other organizations out there, right. You just bring someone in who has experience doing this, they will do it for you, with you, you know, in, in a way that it’s affordable to really help you do it. So it’s not so overwhelming. It shouldn’t be an overwhelming process. And you know, that, that experience of walking away from having done it the first time, and then the second time, you know, it becomes a lot easier and it’s really just like, okay, I needed to make sure when I’m designing this event, that I do this, this, and this, it’s always easier when you go into it that way. Versus at the very end, like, oh my events in a week, we should be accessible. Can you help me? That happens to me all the time. I’ve literally had people call me at like, Hey, our events, you know, on Monday. And we haven’t really thought about accessibility. What can you do? It’s like, well, it’s a little hard at this point. Um, so

Tosha Anderson:

The whole

Dr. Daniela Ferdico:

Right, you know, all of the different pieces are thought about and designed and planted the outset, the easier and less expensive it really is. So,

Tosha Anderson:

Oh, that’s a good point. Okay. So sensoryaccess.org, they can find you there. Um, okay. Well, Dr. Ferdico thank you so much for joining us today, sharing your experiences. I loved hearing some of your practical tips. Um, something, frankly, I’ve not thought enough about. Um, I think when we think of disabilities, we think of just, you know, 20 year ago, you know, physical disabilities and accessibility, and I’m starting to see more and more accessibility with, with other disabilities. And I think as a conversation, we need to continue having and figuring out how we can do better and better. And as the nonprofit community continue to be role models for those, um, that maybe aren’t in this space, but because we work with, you know, all different populations, we should certainly be more, um, in tune with this. So thank you again for bringing this conversation to light and sharing your resources and check out sensoryaccess.org. If you want more information, thank you again until next time everybody.

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