Electricity is an accessibility issue

When you’re planning an event, conference, venue, retreat center, house of worship, community center, or similar, it’s important to keep in mind that many people need reliable access to electricity in order to be able to participate. A choice to build or use a venue without reliable electricity is a choice to exclude people with disabilities.

Access to electricity is always important, but it’s especially important for overnight events or multi-day conferences. Many people with disabilities absolutely depend on electricity to be able to participate in events.

Here are some people you’re excluding if you choose or build a venue without reliable electricity:

People who use electric wheelchairs or mobility scooters:

  • Power chairs do not have infinite battery power
  • They have large batteries that have to be charged overnight
  • Charging them takes a lot of power
  • Minimalist electricity isn’t enough. Having a generator available for a few hours in the evening will not make a conference without electricity accessible to people who need to charge large batteries
  • If people can’t charge their chairs at your event, then you’re excluding power chair users.

High-tech AAC (alternative and augmentative communication) users:

  • Not everyone can talk.
  • Some people who can talk can’t reliably use speech to communicate
  • Many people use high-tech speech-generating devices to communicate
  • (For example, some people use apps such as Speak For Yourself on an iPad, or a dedicated device such as a DynaVox)
  • High-tech AAC devices only work if they are charged
  • The batteries aren’t infinite. Devices need to be charged overnight and some may also need to be charged during the day.
  • If your venue doesn’t have reliable electricity, people who need to keep their communication devices charged can’t participate
  • A choice to hold an event in a venue without reliable electricity is a choice to exclude people with communication disabilities who use speech generating devices to communicate

People who use ventilators and other breathing equipment:

  • Everyone needs to breathe
  • Not everyone can breathe adequately on their own
  • Some people need ventilators, bipaps, or other breathing equipment
  • People who use breathing equipment also do things besides sit at home and breathe, like go to conferences or other events you might be planning
  • People need to breathe while they do things like go to your event, which means they probably need to be able to plug in their machines
  • Machines can run off of batteries, but no battery has infinite power. Reliable access to electricity is important. No one should have to worry about where their next breath is coming from because they can’t find an electrical outlet.
  • If your venue doesn’t have reliable electricity, people who need machines to breathe can’t safely participate in your events
  • If you choose to hold your event in a location without reliable electricity, you’re choosing to exclude people with disabilities who need breathing support

People who need powered medical equipment:

  • Some people with chronic conditions need to do regular nebulizer treatments in order to keep their lungs functioning
  • Some people who eat through feeding tubes need powered infusion pumps to eat safely
  • Some people need to sleep with a CPAP in order to breathe at night
  • Some people use powered dialysis systems at night
  • If your venue doesn’t have reliable electricity, people who need powered medical equipment can’t safely participate.
  • If you choose to hold your event in a location without reliable electricity, you’re choosing to exclude people with disabilities or chronic conditions who rely on powered medical equipment

Medication:

  • Some people rely on medication that needs to be refrigerated.
  • If you hold a conference in a venue with no electricity and no refrigeration, they can’t safely participate.
  • A choice to hold an event in a venue without electricity is a choice to exclude people who need medication which must be refrigerated.

Some specific considerations in making sure electricity is available:

  • There need to be available outlets in people’s rooms and in the public areas where events are happening
  • Make sure the outlets are available and in good working order
  • (A broken outlet will not charge someone’s wheelchair)
  • Neither will a two-prong outlet. Make sure three-prong outlets are available.
  • If the available outlets aren’t at the tables (or whatever other space) you’re using, make sure you have a three-prong extension cord that reaches them
  • An outlet on the other side of the room is better than nothing, but it’s still a barrier to full participation. Extension cords can often solve that problem.
  • (In any case, a long, three-pronged extension cord is a good thing to keep in your supply kit for events; there are a lot of situations in which they are useful)
  • If you can, arrange the room so that the outlets are near the tables you’ll be using (this is also helpful to people who need to charge computers and phones).

tl;dr Electricity is an accessibility issue. Having an event (and especially a conference) in a venue without reliable electricity excludes people with disabilities whose adaptive equipment requires electrical power.