The desire and need to belong is human nature. All of us, with our varying backgrounds, unique experiences, and distinctive characteristics, want to feel acknowledged, understood, and accepted by others, and event attendees are no different. 

When event participants attend conferences, conventions, tradeshows, and the like, even though there are alignments in their professions, they are not a homogeneous population.  These gatherings bring together people of various cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, gender identities, and ethnicities, and with different abilities – both physical and neurological – all of whom want to feel included.   

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Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2022 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

So, how do you as an event planner, or even an event venue, achieve this sense of belonging for your attendees?  

Recently the Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) convened a group of event professionals to update their Accessibility Toolkit.  As a contributor to this document, I’d like to highlight a few tips to help you get started. 

Don’t Generalize Your Attendees 

Having a meaningful understanding of the concept of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility is the first step in creating an environment of genuine belonging for your attendees. You should always be cognizant of your attendees’ differing abilities and requirements and avoid pigeonholing everyone into one bucket.  

Only when this concept has been fully grasped by your internal team and your event partners will you be able to develop and implement policies and procedures that are all-encompassing and provide a worthwhile experience for your attendees. 

Special Olympics Interscholastic Unified Bocce Tournament 2023 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center

Partner with an Event Venue That Shares Your Commitment to Inclusivity and Accessibility 

As mentioned in one of our previous posts, an event venue/event planner relationship should be more of a partnership, through which the venue team acts as an extension of the show’s management team to help achieve the event’s overall objectives and make the event planner’s life easier. As it relates to the topic at hand, what this means is that, when selecting an event venue, you should ensure that the venue team places the same level of importance on accessibility and inclusivity as you and your team do and that they are able to collaborate in a meaningful way to effectively meet your attendees’ unique needs. 

At the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the comfort of our customers and guests is always our top priority and our facility provides several accessibility amenities to ensure that we are creating a welcoming environment for our guests. Some of these permanent amenities include accessible restrooms, service animal facilities, braille room signage, scooter rentals, and Mamava lactation suites.  


Additionally, our team has collaborated with many of our customers to create event spaces that further encouraged a deeper sense of belonging. These included all-gender restrooms, sensory and quiet rooms, prayer rooms, and safe spaces customized to best suit the needs of our customers and their attendees. 

Create a Plan for the “What Ifs” 

As can be seen from the last point, accessibility and inclusion encompass a broad range of services and considerations that go beyond the general requirements of ADA compliance, and often include scenarios that many persons do not consider until they are directly impacted.  

Drawing from personal experience, about a year ago, I injured my knee on a business trip and unfortunately, the hotel was unable to provide anything to assist me. This made navigating the conference space and the venue in general extremely challenging. In this situation, my disability was not permanent, nor was it expected, but having mobility equipment either on site or easily attainable from a service partner, would have made my experience much more enjoyable. 


With this in mind, when developing your plans, everyone in the event cycle, from the event planner to the event services professionals, must think beyond the obvious and create policies that respond to all the “what if” scenarios that could occur during an event. Some questions that could be considered include: 

  • Does the emergency response plan include an alternative solution to assist a person using a wheelchair down the stairs if the elevator or escalator is not functioning or a fire is in progress?   

  • Does the venue have the infrastructure or staff to support visual and hearing impairments, such as sound notifications on escalators to alert people when to step off or access to assistive listening devices? 

  • Is everyone on the team knowledgeable about and comfortable with respecting gender identities and using appropriate pronouns? 

  • Are team members knowledgeable about assisting someone experiencing sensory overload? 

Involve Your Attendees 

An important part of creating an accessible and inclusive event is including your attendees in the process from the very beginning.  

During the registration process, including targeted questions that help to identify attendees’ needs, preferences, abilities, and other elements that fall under the umbrella of accessibility and inclusivity, will help you to gather useful attendee data, minimizing the element of surprise and allowing you to plan more effectively. Some of these registration questions could be related to: 

  • Accessibility/mobility restrictions and requirements 

  • Food or other allergies 

  • Gender identity 

  • Religious practices that require special accommodations 

  • Sensory triggers 

Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2022 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center

Additionally, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center we have worked with customers to coordinate accessibility tours of the venue for attendees who had special requirements. During the tours, the attendees had the opportunity to ask questions directly to our staff, which ensured that they were fully aware of all the venue amenities available to them. This process also helped our team ensure that our guests’ needs were being met effectively and allowed us to provide the best experience possible. 


Creating events that are accessible and inclusive can no longer be an afterthought for show organizers. Incorporating meaningful support structures for all attendees, through every phase of the event planning process, will transform the attendee experience and fulfil the natural need for belonging.  

Over time, it is expected that the needs of guests will continue to evolve. It is, therefore, imperative that event managers and facility managers remain focused on ensuring that their event and venue policies and procedures are reflective of their stated commitment to inclusion and accessibility. 


About the Author 

Dominique Bonds is the Director of Engagement with ASM Global, the world's leading producer of entertainment experiences, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. In this role, she oversees all aspects of customer experience and engagement, employee engagement, community relations, and diversity and inclusion. 

A 25-year veteran at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Dominique joined the team in 1998 as the Senior Front Desk Receptionist and has held several positions in various departments including Technology Services, Show Services, and Guest Experience. In 2021, she was promoted to her current role. 

Dominique has a passion for and commitment to representing all that is wonderful about Philadelphia and encouraging those around her to create extraordinary guest experiences. She also places great importance on giving back to communities that are underserved and underrepresented. 

To learn more about incorporating a social responsibility initiative into your next event, you can contact Dominique at