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Language Access and Event Planning

Written by: Marie-Ève Monette and Emily Lescak

Marie-Ève Monette is the founder and director of Creating Puentes, an organization that provides language access consulting, capacity building support, and workshops to entities serving non-native English-speaking communities. Below are her recommended planning stages for organizing an accessible event and questions that the organizational team needs to consider before, during, and after an event.

While the ideal would be to automatically offer your event in multiple languages (this includes spoken and sign languages), most event organizing committees will face limitations related to time, staff, funding, and other resources. What your team can do to limit and overcome some of these limitations is aim to make sure that a maximum of attendees will not only have access to your event, but also have the equal capacity to participate in it as any other participant. For that, you will need to create a language access plan, by taking the following steps:

  1. Assess language access needs for your event
  2. Design your plan
  3. Implement your plan
  4. Evaluate your plan and the event

All stages require your team to reflect on its internal processes as well as the experiences and knowledges the participants bring to the event.

In the assessment stage, organizers first need to identify the event’s points of interaction and ask participants to share their native languages. To assess the event’s various points of interaction, organizers need to identify how participants will engage with the event, including before and after surveys, registration forms, promotional materials, web and social media presence, virtual platforms, phone lines, files used during the event, and post-event publications. Assessment also requires gathering information about the participants’ primary/native languages. This information can be collected using a pre-event survey, or asking a targeted question in a registration form. Participants will likely be more encouraged to respond if they know that the information will be used to make the event more inclusive, diverse, and accessible. The responses will give you an idea of the majority languages spoken and read by future attendees.

Once points of interaction and languages have been identified, organizers are ready to start the design of the language access plan. Since collaboration is the most important aspect of language access planning, the first step of the design stage is to build your language access team. A language access team can include a coordinator or a few members dedicated to access, as well as translators and interpreters, all of whom will be responsible for making the points and levels of interaction with your event accessible to the maximum number of attendees. This team will ultimately be in charge of designing and implementing the language access plan. The plan itself will include information about the roles within the team, the selection of materials to be translated, contracts with translators and interpreters, communication as well as troubleshooting strategies for before, during, and after the event (both for the organizational team and the event attendees), budgeting, partnership-building, and a timeline. Establishing partnerships is key to providing successful language access to your event attendees. The more you can establish mutually beneficial collaborations with national or regional organizations, community advocacy organizations, universities, colleges or other institutions dedicated to language access, inclusion, diversity and equity, the stronger language accessibility will be for your event. As you can see, there is a lot of work involved in language access planning, so it’s best to start early!

Once this work has been completed, you are ready to implement your plan! Establish partnerships, oversee the translation of all materials, upload them to chosen platforms, communicate with attendees, share all documents and other materials, run a rehearsal with interpreters prior to the event, and then run and wrap up your event following the steps elaborated in your plan. Despite all the best planning in the world, there may still be some challenges on the day itself. That’s normal! However, having a plan in place will give you a road map to follow or at least to guide you to resolve any issues that may arise, and minimize the risks of them getting out of hand.

Finally, once the event is over, you can evaluate your language access plan. Some prefer to design their evaluation methods at the design stage of the language access planning process. While it can be useful to do so, the event itself will provide you with many experiences and much useful information that may require you to adapt any evaluation materials you will have designed prior to the event so that they reflect the new knowledge and experiences acquired. When designing your evaluation methods, consider what types of data you can collect and analyze to find out about attendee satisfaction and feedback. How can this be included in other types of data collection strategies you have developed in order to maximize the efficiency of your communications with the attendees? At this point in your language access plan, you will also want to get feedback from your team about its process and any partnerships established in the organization of your event. What could be improved or adjusted for future events?

Examples of Feedback Questions

Questions for Attendees

Questions for Organizers

Was your native / primary language present in translated communications before, during, and after the event?

Did you have enough people and time to design and implement your language access plan? Why or why not?

Was interpretation into your native / primary language provided during the event? 

Was your plan easy to follow during the event? Why or why not? 

Rate the quality of the translation of written materials. 

  • Very Strong

  • Strong

  • Average

  • Low

  • Very Low

What partnerships did you establish? What mutual benefits did they produce? 

If interpretation was provided in your native/primary language, rate the quality of the interpretation. 

  • Very Strong

  • Strong

  • Average

  • Low

  • Very Low

When collaborating with translators, what were the top 3 successes? What were the top 3 challenges?

The translated materials and interpretation allowed you to actively participate in and contribute to the event. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree

  • Somewhat agree

  • Disagree

  • Strongly Disagree

When collaborating with interpreters, what were the top 3 successes? What were the top three challenges? 

When you have collected the feedback from attendees and organizers, the language access team will write a report including all this information, making sure to include recommendations. This report can be used solely as an internal document, to be used by those organizing similar events in the future. However, you can share this report, on its own or as the last piece of your language access plan, with your attendees. By sharing the plan, and the conclusions and recommendations made after the event, organizers are accountable for following through for future events, and attendees wishing to organize similar events will have a road map to follow.

Virtual events present the opportunity to bring together a global community. Language accessibility is a key component of ensuring that attendees are able to fully participate in all aspects of the event, including talks, discussions, and notetaking. Designing an inclusive event requires organizers to know their attendees and plan ahead. Allow time for reflection during and after the event and create opportunities to get formal and informal feedback from attendees so that you can improve your process in the future. Taking the time and budgeting resources for accessibility will allow for richer discussions and greater participation from all attendees. Your event will be stronger and richer for it!

Featured Image Photo by May Gauthier on Unsplash