EICC: Pioneering inclusivity in events for all!
Anyone thinking of putting on an event needs to make sure they can cater for all parts of society, including those with disabilities or specific requirements. So, choosing a venue that can support that is essential.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) aims to promote fair treatment for all. This means ensuring everyone can be their true selves, whether that’s those from the LGBTQ+ community; people from ethnic minorities or those who have disabilities or present as neurodivergent.
It’s a factor Carron Webster, assistant director of sales at Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), says has grown in prominence in the events industry in recent years, and particularly since the pandemic. “Staff, clients and delegates are so much more aware of these issues now,” she says.
“Across the industry, we all want to be sure that the companies that we’re working with, or the conferences we’re attending, have got wellness at their heart – and that they’re genuine. I don’t feel that was the case even five years ago.” The industry-wide competition for recruiting talent has also provided a strong business reason to ensure everyone is included, supported and made to feel welcome, she adds, as organisations seek to retain and attract valued employees.
EICC itself has seen an increase in the number of conferences it hosts that are dedicated to specific communities, but there’s also a desire to make sure that all events are well set up to accommodate everyone, and cater for those who need additional support.
One area of focus is the diversity of speakers. “A few years ago the speakers list would represent a very limited demographic, almost regardless of the subject matter,” says Webster. “Now event organisers are making sure they have a much more diverse mix of speakers and panellists – which is great to see as it makes the event content relatable to a far wider demographic.”
Companies are also much more aware of catering for a diverse set of requirements, she adds; for instance, ensuring there is a good selection of non-alcoholic drinks available for a Muslim audience, and plenty of plant-based food options for the growing community of vegetarians or vegans. EICC also provides prayer rooms – both male and female – which can help to accommodate guests during periods such as Ramadan.
A major focus when delivering inclusive events is to ensure venues are set up to accommodate those who present as neurodivergent, which can cover a range of conditions including ADHD, autism and Tourette’s syndrome. “Every one of the senses has to be considered,” says Webster.
EICC has itself been on a journey around its provisions in this area for several years, having hosted the Autism-Europe Congress in 2016. “My daughter was actually at a special needs school at the time,” she recalls. “I arranged for her and 15 of her fellow classmates to come along to the EICC and tell us what they thought of the building. It was very interesting to see what triggered the different children; for some it was sound, some the lights, some the smells and the food.”
For the conference itself, EICC put in place a lanyard system which would help staff understand the specific needs of those individuals; something that has since been adapted for future events. Other measures that can be put in place for events where there will be large numbers of neurodivergent individuals include switching off hand-dryers in the toilets and providing individual pre-portioned food and cutlery.
EICC recommends to organisers that they use silent applause, known as flappause, rather than clapping, which can trigger certain individuals, and to avoid sudden music or noise when it comes to announcements and presentations. EICC also offers multiple quiet rooms where people can go to escape if they need time out, where there is the option to turn off the lights, and neutral décor.
One organisation that has made use of EICC’s facilities, expertise and forward thinking work on social inclusion is the Salvesen Mindroom Centre, which ran the ITAKOM (It Takes All Kinds Of Minds) Conference in March 2023. The charity was set up in 2000 by former foreign correspondent Sophie Dow, after her daughter was born mentally handicapped with a rare condition that is now known as Annie’s Syndrome, named after her.
“The mission for Mindroom is the same today as it was then, which is to create a more inclusive and equal world for anyone who is neurodivergent, because every single person has the right to a dignified life,” says Dow. “We need to talk to people to reduce the stigma, and one way of doing that is through holding conferences.”
Mindroom initially held an event in 2003 at EICC, and chose the same venue for this year’s 20th anniversary event. Ensuring it was able to cater for a large number of neurodivergent people was a top priority. “We were incredibly inclusive,” adds Dow. “ITAKOM was live as well as virtual in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. We had a specially put together neurodivergent squad advising us all the way, a detailed and considered ITAKOM delegate manual, breakout rooms, silent rooms, special lights, headphones, free fidget toys, pronoun badges, communication stickers and an ITAKOM app through which delegates could communicate. We also set up a bursary scheme which enabled as many as 140 delegates to attend ITAKOM for free. We are super proud to say that we were applauded for our inclusivity measures in the post-event evaluations.” One of the keynote speakers at the event was Rory Bremner, who is the charity’s ambassador and was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 50.
EICC staff have also undergone training by LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, which has previously used the venue for its annual conference and will be doing so again later this year. “It’s first about understanding that discrimination is a huge thing which people from this community experience regularly, and then communicating that such discrimination has absolutely no place in our industry and beyond,” says Webster. Many measures are simple to enact, she says, for example, use of gender neutral language such as “team” and “everyone” or “everybody” when addressing groups.
Staff have undergone training in accommodating disabled guests too, she adds, and the venue has put on events designed to cater specifically for this audience. Steps that can be taken here include the use of hearing loops, ensuring there is a clear flow around the building for wheelchair users and that multi-level catering stations are available. EICC also provides sign language interpreters, including those who can sign in multiple different languages.
Since the pandemic, many event professionals have left the industry, points out Webster, which means it’s vital anyone organising events is able to draw on an experienced venue team. “An experienced venue team guides organisers through all the areas they need to consider,” she says. “It can help ensure that your event runs smoothly while catering for everyone.”
To find out more about how EICC could help you put on an event which caters for all parts of society, visit eicc.co.uk.
For more information on Mindroom, visit Mindroom.org.