Top tips for an accessible festive night out

Kirsteen Allison, from our training and consultancy team, shares her top tips as a disabled person to ensure your office party night is accessible.

Kirsteen and her hearing dog Frankie
Kirsteen with Frankie, her Hearing Dog for Deaf People

With lockdown over, this year may be the first year in a while where we can have a proper festive party with our colleagues. However, there is a danger that not every employee will be able to participate. The accessibility of these office parties is often an afterthought, and disabled colleagues may not be able to attend. 

Here are my top tips to ensure your office party night is accessible and inclusive for everyone.

1. Accessibility is your responsibility

If your office party is being held in an external venue, then it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming accessibility is the responsibility of that venue, and that venue alone. However, an organisation’s responsibility to its disabled employees extends beyond the office to social events. 

So, if you were booking that venue and did not consider accessibility in advance, a disabled employee may be unable to attend or participate in that event. The venue and the employer could be seen to have discriminated against that disabled employee.

To avoid this scenario, when booking your office party, be sure to check ahead that the venue is accessible for all. Some examples of things to consider include accessible parking, accessible toilet facilities, wheelchair accessibility, noise levels, strobe lighting, and availability of seats.

You can use websites such as Euan’s Guide or AccessAble to ascertain the accessibility of a venue before you book it. You could even ask your disabled colleagues if they have recommendations for an accessible night out. 

2. Consider dietary requirements

Whether you’re ordering catering or booking a restaurant for your night out, be mindful of everyone’s dietary requirements. You could have a colleague with a severe nut allergy that could meet the definition of disability. Therefore, you could again be discriminating if this is not taken into consideration.

Whilst most restaurants offer plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, plus gluten, nut, and dairy-free dishes, one must never assume.

Ask venues how they cater to different dietary requirements and ask for examples of their menus. You may be able to find their menus on their websites or social media. You can also ask disabled colleagues themselves to share any dietary requirements when they RSVP.

We are all different, with different adjustments, different dietary requirements, and even different opinions on the holiday season (everyone knows a Grinch!).

3. Be aware of sensory overload

Consider the environment that you will be booking. Will it be far too crowded for a wheelchair user? Could an assistance dog be tripped over? You should also consider the prospect of sensory overload if there are a lot of people, noises, and bright lights. Your disabled colleague could become overwhelmed.

Research the venue before you book it to determine whether it is the best environment for your party. You can do this using the websites mentioned earlier. Consider having your party or end of year meal on a day or time that tends to be much quieter to reduce the prospect of sensory overload. You could do your own accessibility check like you might do when booking a conference venue.

The best thing to do, however, is to ask the disabled person themselves what environment or type of social event works best for them.

4. Make your party hybrid

Although lockdown is over, Covid-19 is still in circulation, and some disabled colleagues may be more vulnerable. As a result, they may feel uncomfortable attending in-person social events. 

Some disabled people may find travel to the holiday party more complicated if the venue does not have any accessible parking or accessible transport options nearby. 

Therefore, to ensure everyone can participate, you could consider making your event a hybrid event. Giving guests the option to attend via Zoom or another virtual platform means everyone can get involved in the holiday celebrations.

5. Consider games and activities

Many office parties have games, karaoke and other activities, but how accessible and inclusive are those activities? 

If someone has a hearing or speech impairment, they may not be able to participate in office karaoke. Someone with a hearing impairment may miss the questions being asked in a quiz. Games that involve using your vision, such as charades, could present a barrier to individuals with visual impairments.

To ensure games and activities are accessible to all, you could ask your disabled colleagues what suggestions they may have or offer a variety of different games at the party.

And remember… 

We are all different, with different adjustments, different dietary requirements, and even different opinions on the holiday season (everyone knows a Grinch!).

So, we cannot make assumptions about what people want; we must ask in advance, which will help us make our parties more inclusive.