Planning Accessible Events: Commencement & Convocations
A Happy - Hectic - Day!
Even though Commencement happens every year, it's always a busy time for planners. There are details to check off, lots of people to move, and sometimes surprises.
Design your graduation events to include students and guests with disabilities from the start. These tips can help you evaluate what you have planned and aspects you might not have thought about. Your campus' Disability Resource Center or ADA Coordinator are essential resources as you prepare.
Know Your Event Environments
Event spaces are the major components of Commencement and Convocations. Planners should take a big-picture approach to choosing and evaluating venues, keeping in mind these features:
Parking, including accessible parking, is usually on a first-come, first-served basis for events like Commencement. Make sure that loading zones are free of obstructions. Many colleges offer shuttle service; make sure there are accessible shuttles available.
Paths of travel from parking facilities to buildings and between buildings must be level and well-marked, leading to step-free entrances.
Be mindful that stadiums or other large Commencement spaces, and smaller Convocation spaces are wheelchair-accessible, which includes not only spaces to sit, but ample space to navigate and turn wheelchairs around as needed. Make sure that accessible bathrooms are available and in service.
Have plan for inclement weather to protect motorized wheelchairs and scooters.
ADA regulations on stadiums (pdf)
Check for elevator and lift access in buildings. Facilities with elevators and lifts that require keys or an attendant should be avoided, since staff might not be available so that students or guests are left behind. If you must use such facilities, secure any keys in advance if elevators or lifts are locked or key-operated.
Seating and lighting. Ensure that there are sight-lines from seating areas to stage, podium or front of room. Be aware of obscured views or overly dark rooms that make it difficult to navigate.
Ushers should be ready to assist visually impaired or other students with guides to their seats. Learn how to effectively guide blind people at: https://nfb.org/courtesy-rules
Universities and colleges sometimes show one or more videos during Commencement or Convocations. Planners should ensure that the video producers have included open-captioning post-production before the video can be shown. This allows the video to be shown to a variety of groups, without having to ask whether a person requires captioning or not each time. Captioning is useful for a range of audiences beyond those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
If possible, outlines or full-text of speeches, instructions, awardee names, songs, etc. should be given to sign language interpreters and real-time captioning providers in advance, for their preparation.
Ensure that any interactive activities for students or family members take a wide variety of characteristics and abilities into consideration. Think how to make visual or auditory components accessible to blind, Deaf or Hard of Hearing students; if they can’t be made accessible, modify the activity so that no one is left out.
Cuquis Robledo gives tips to students, based on her own experience, in this video from Rooted in Rights: The Right to Your Graduation. Planners - Watch this, too!
Communication access (sign language interpreters, captioning/CART, assistive listening devices) is essential for the full participation of students and family members who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
For Commencement, it's becoming common practice to include interpreters on stage and real-time captioning on Jumbotron-type screens, without requiring this be provided only by request. If Deaf family members are sitting away from the main stage, additional interpreters might be needed in their section.
For students who use sign language for communication, interpreters should be made available for School Convocation or departmental activities and receptions.
Prepare Large Print versions of programs and other printed material in advance. Large Print is typically 14 to 16 point font with minimal serifs. Have a few Large Print programs available at each entrance; or made available in advance upon request.
Ushers should know how to address requests for assistive listening devices. Some venues have systems built in to the facility; others distribute headphones upon request.
Over-arching your planning is the campus' attitude toward people with disabilities. Is the campus welcoming to a diverse student body and visitors, including those with disabilities? Are disabled students or the Disability Resource Center involved in planning or are they excluded from active participation?
If Commencement staff are not familiar with disability they could meet with DRC staff or the campus Disabled Student Center or Club to learn more and find volunteers to help with Commencement activities.
The DREAM student organization is another good source for learning about disability: http://www.dreamcollegedisability.org/
Informing potential participants of accessibility is key to successful events. Statements such as those below should be included in all printed and online advertisements of your events.
Campus Community or Invitation-Only Events
Sample statement: If you require disability-related accommodations to participate in this event, please contact [sponsoring department] two weeks in advance of the event.
Large Scale Events and Those Open to the Public
Sample statements: This event is wheelchair-accessible and will be interpreted into American Sign Language. Or, Wheelchair and Communication Access will be available at this event.
The Wheelchair Access and other symbols may be used to convey this information as well. Dreamstime.com is one of many sources for accessibility icons.
Commencement office websites should include instructions for requesting accommodations. Here are a few examples from various campuses:
University of Arizona
Riverside City College
Additional information about planning accessible and inclusive events can be found at our Inclusive Events page.