The science engagement sector is increasingly talking about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and the need to make our activities available and inclusive to as wider group of people as possible.  

With this in mind, we partnered with BIG STEM Communicators Network to run a session alongside the annual BIG Event to explore how science engagement practitioners can make better use of their facilities and resources to support EDI. We heard from three speakers:

  • Kelechi Dibie, EDI Officer at Newcastle University’s Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences (HaSS) 
  • Lyndsey McLean, Community Engagement and Access Manager at Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society
  • Becca Wilson, UKRI Innovation Fellow, Newcastle University

We’ve identified five actions and top tips to make a difference, and support diverse practitioners, organisations, and organisers even when they aren’t directly involved in our work.    

Think about everyone involved 

Many events and activities are great at meeting the accessibility needs of their attendees but give less consideration to speakers and backstage areas. Becca shared her experiences of attending academic and science communication events as a speaker and person who uses a wheelchair. One of her examples was a conference which claimed to be accessible but had stone steps into almost every room; another was an informal science communication event which took place on a boat with no access at all! 

perfect venue is rarely possible, but some key things to pay attention to include:  

  • Providing step-free access to building, rooms, stage, food, poster areas and any extra or networking or social spaces for people with mobility impairments.  
  • Always use microphones and  where possible – have live captioning or a hearing loop (permanent or portable) for people with hearing impairments. 
  • Test the colours, lighting, signs and printing and room layout for people with visual impairment.  
  • Provide a quiet or calming room, clear programme scheduling and plenty of breaks for people with neurodiverse requirements. 

Be pre-emptive with your communications 

Marketing events and activities in an inclusive way is key. Be upfront about what you can and cannot provide by having an accessibility statement for your venues, events, and activities to explain in detail what facilities are available and what features the venue has. Lyndsey spoke about the importance of providing as much information as possible on your website, event flyers, social media and communications. Something as simple as using the words ‘accessible venue or no hearing needed’ on your flyer will signal that your event aims to include everyone. Assume that someone will want to know all this information - don’t make them ask for it! 

Build alliances 

In larger organisations it can feel difficult to make the structural changes needed to support inclusionKelechi spoke about the example of Newcastle University, where she has brought together representatives from student support, HR, outreach, estates, trade unions, student union, faculties and schools, and the wider community. By showing how progress on EDI impacts and benefits them all, they were able to make a collective case for change at senior levels.  

Key areas to think about include communication, data collection and sharingtraining, staff networks, having a consistent and collective approach, and encouraging stakeholder involvement.  

Easy and low-cost resources are available 

Our speakers and attendees shared some great resources for science engagement which don’t involve too much time or money 

  • There is an inbuilt captioning function in Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Attitude is Everything have a great DIY Guide for event organisers
  • Lyndsey’s team at Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society have produced a performers guide
  • AccessAble provide photographs and key information on spaces and venues around the UK 
  • Look up or list your venue on Euan’s Guide, a global resource for reviewing accessibility
  • Find someone who can sign the key information for your event or activity and upload a short video to your website.  
  • Put your own resources together. The Fringe have started offering sensory backpacks for people with neurodiverse requirements. The backpacks include ear defenders, a fidget spinnerwater bottle, social story of to what to expect at the Fringe, and a list of relaxed performances.  

Everyone is an individual 

Learning more about speakers, audiences and participants doesn’t have to be expensive. As a first step, Kelechi recommends assessing every activity against the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act (2010). This serves as an audit or risk assessment and will help you think more broadly about inclusion.   

However, obstacles to participation are complex, and it is important to pay due attention to intersectionality and to understand the way in which a person’s many identities might interactThere are many unseen factors which affect people including literacy levels, previous experiences, subjectivity, phobias, stereotypingor financial cost.  

The importance of intersectionality was summed up by a quote from Audre Lorde “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives. 

If you have any top tips for event organisers or other science engagement activities, send them to Clio Heslop here.