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September 22, 2016
If you are in a wheelchair or know someone who is, you've likely discovered that even some "accessible" venues have barriers. It may be a one-step level change, which most people don't even notice, or perhaps a ramp without the requisite flat platforms, or a fully accessible restroom at the end of a hallway too narrow to navigate.

Wheelchair access is just one of a host of issues when it comes to accessibility. There's also knowing how far away the nearest all-night pharmacy is, or whether someone in the convention center has an emergency EpiPen -- and how quickly it can be retrieved in an emergency.

For these reasons, the Event Service Professionals Association has released "Project Access: Accessible Meetings FAQs," a series of checklists designed for hotels, convention centers, venues, and even convention and visitors bureaus. The checklists can be used to ensure smooth access is available to attendees every step of the way, from the airport and ground transportation through hotels, main venues and offsite event locations. There is also a resource list that CVBs and destination marketing organizations can use when working with state and local agencies.

"Accessibility is key to every attendee fully experiencing the benefits of an event," said Denise Suttle, CMP, assistant director of convention services at Visit Albuquerque, immediate past president of ESPA, and chair of the Project Access initiative. "Our ESPA members regularly field questions from meeting planners about access. This new tool will help venues and destinations evaluate their own accessibility and will make event planners' search for resources easier. Having the answers readily available will help planners with site selection and event planning."

It's worth noting that this is not just a matter of accommodating all attendees. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires public facilities be made accessible to people with physical challenges and lays out specific and detailed requirements. Beyond that, some states have more stringent requirements. California, for example, mandates that the platforms on ramps be 6 feet by 6 feet, rather than the federal 5 by 5. And venues can be sued by people who are denied access if they are not up to code.

"The biggest issue is first raising awareness that in any group or with any traveler, there are bound to be people who have disabilities -- including those who were injured just before arriving," said Joan Eisenstodt, a meetings and hospitality consultant, facilitator and trainer who served on the independent review board for Project Access. "If used, Project Access has the possibility of immense impact for anyone with disabilities. It will go a long way to making hospitality hospitable."

The Project Access document is available free to ESPA members on the organization's website, and to non-members by emailing info@espaonline.org.