The number of people with mobility limitations as a percentage of all spectators can be slightly higher at commencement than at other school events. Grandparents and the elderly are more likely to attend these once-in-a-lifetime ceremonies, and unfortunately with age comes a higher likelihood of some type of mobility concern. Additionally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 3.6 million military veterans with service-related injuries. With this in mind, what accommodations can event coordinators make for those commencement spectators who have limited mobility?
To begin, there are millions of people who have mobility limitations, but do not meed the threshold of having a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Appropriate accommodations for graduates or spectators with defined disabilities is a different topic of conversation. Here, we are focused on those individuals who just need a little extra “TLC” getting into and out of the ceremony venue. To start the conversation, below are six practices in use at various schools and universities:
Some schools reserve up-front sections of the parking lots for the elderly and individuals with mobility limitations. These sections are not to be confused with accessible parking for appropriately permitted vehicles. Instead, designated parking for the those with mobility limitations are adjacent to accessible parking spaces, and are the "next best" spaces on the lots.
Parking attendants are necessary for this to work, as are traffic cones to isolate the parking areas designated for this purpose. Vehicles with the appropriate placards or permits are of course directed to the accessible parking spots. Meanwhile, vehicles with limited mobility passengers can request a space reserved for this purpose, and parking attendants can be instructed to proactively direct vehicles with applicable passengers to these areas.
Road signs for motorists approaching the venue might also be appropriate. For example, a school in North Carolina holds their commencements at a venue with two parking lots on opposite sides of the venue. Both lots have accessible parking for permitted vehicles. However, only one lot has designated parking for non-disabled individuals with limited mobility. As such, the school places temporary signs along the roads approaching the venue directing vehicles with mobility-limited passengers towards the appropriate parking lot.
If there are preferred entrances into your venue for those with mobility limitations, directional signs from the parking lot might be appropriate. For example, a college in Florida has a large seating area designated for individuals with mobility limitations. However, this area is not easily accessible from the venue’s north or west entrances. Therefore, event staff places signs around the parking lot directing those individuals to the more accessible south and east entrances.
Most public venues have some type of driveway or temporary loading area for passenger pick-up and drop-off. If this is the case at your commencement and you believe it might receive significant use, consider stationing a volunteer or staff member there before the ceremony to:
- Answer questions
- Assist passengers
- Ensure drivers don’t leave their vehicle unattended, but instead are there only long enough to unload.
If there’s an appreciable distance to walk between the parking lot and venue entrances, some type of shuttle service before and after the ceremony might be appropriate. This is especially helpful if curb-side drop-off is not an option.
This shuttle can be as simple as a 4-6 passenger golf cart, which can be rented if not already owned by your school or venue. It should be clear that the shuttle is not for the able-bodied, but is instead reserved for the elderly and those with mobility limitations.
Some schools reserve rows of seating closest to entrance-level for spectators at commencement with limited mobility. For example, at a coliseum where spectators enter on ground level and then descend down stairs “into the bowl” to reach their seats, several rows at the top might be reserved for this purpose. This limits the number of steps needed to reach a seat. “Reserved seating” signs and a ceremony usher are used to control access to these rows. Similar to the parking lot, this is separate from areas reserved for those with defined physical disabilities. It is instead a courtesy to individuals who might have difficulty moving throughout a large venue.
Information and Outreach
Online or in print, wherever you publish your school’s commencement details, be sure to include any relevant information for those with limited mobility. Sometimes just knowing exactly what lies ahead makes it easier for them to attend these special ceremonies.