The annual Communication Matters International AAC Conference is the UK’s leading AAC event, bringing together AAC users, families, professionals, researchers and suppliers for a diverse programme.
Over 2.5 days, a series of plenaries, workshops, presentations, networking, entertainment and a suppliers’ exhibition, all takes place across a range of University of Leeds venues.
The 2022 conference was the 37th edition as well as the 11th year that the event has been held at the University of Leeds.
Brief and objective:
25 of the attendees were AAC users, requiring easy wheelchair access around the whole venue. Some of our guests have a range of complex disabilities and were attending with their Personal Assistants (PAs) or families, so we needed multiple spaces that could accommodate larger capacities.
Several of the keynote speakers and presenters are AAC users themselves, so it was essential that the venue could facilitate the use of a range of different communication aids and devices.
As a residential conference, we required on-site accessible accommodation, plus additional rooms for staff, PAs and support companions.
Our overriding objective is for every attendee to feel that their individual needs are both understood and catered for so that they get the most out the conference. Ultimately, we want their experience to be the same as for any other delegate attending an event of this nature. Given the broad scope of our accessibility criteria, this requires a collaborative approach to events management from the University’s Conferences and Events team.
How did you choose which spaces you wanted to use?
The key considerations were around accessibility, technical compatibility for our presenters’ different communication aids, and providing separate catering or changing areas for anyone who needed them. Some of our guests are fed by their PAs or a family member and find it a challenge to enjoy meals in a busy or noisy environment. So, to overcome this, we utilised the Baines Wing Café as a quiet breakout area.
The exhibition is an integral element of the programme as many suppliers use this as a platform to launch their latest products or services to the industry. Parkinson Court was ideal for this – there was ample space for catering, 18 stands, wheelchair access throughout the exhibition floor, networking and a quiet zone for AAC users.
In terms of accommodation for the 2022 conference, we occupied every accessible room available on the University of Leeds campus.
What were your catering requirements & did Great Food at Leeds provide anything bespoke for you?
Each day we served a buffet lunch in Parkinson Court so that guests could maximise the time exploring the exhibition. The catering team carefully considered which foods would prove challenging for AAC users to eat and avoided these, devising a menu that enabled all guests to enjoy the same dishes.
We also host other AAC events at the University of Leeds, including Study Days, Exhibitions, Board meetings, and our biennial AAC Awards ceremony. Thanks to the strength of the relationship that has developed with the catering team, our guests feel comfortable in making very specific individual requests, which are always accommodated. As an event organiser, I’m aware that few venues would deliver this level of customised service without a huge cost attached. So as a charity, we’re very grateful that Great Food at Leeds go above and beyond for us.
What were your AV requirements?
We had a range of content being presented, including videos, PowerPoint presentations, research papers and personal stories. Most of the rooms we used for the plenaries and workshops were sufficiently equipped for our needs. Anything additional was supplemented by the in-house AV team. We also worked with the in-house technicians to ensure that the different AAC aids could be used by our presenters and delegates as required.
This year was our first time hosting the main plenary in the Esther Simpson Building. We were delighted with how seamlessly everything ran and seeing the presentation on huge screens really heightened the delegate engagement with the content.
“In all our time hosting the annual International AAC Conference at the University of Leeds, we have been blown away by the team’s friendly and collaborative approach. It’s clear they take accessibility seriously, always working flexibly and with a can-do attitude to satisfy all our needs as an organiser but more importantly, those of our delegates. Their commitment to improving the delegate experience by becoming a Communication Accessible venue, instilled confidence in our attendees that all of their needs will be met. This faith in the venue really helped maximise registrations for our conference.
The University of Leeds Conferences and Events team works like an extension of our own, which helps us to put the delegate experience at the heart of what we do. They have also provided further support by introducing us to key industry partners, which has helped increase awareness of the Communication Access UK initiative. This has proven very beneficial to us, resulting in an increased rollout of the training across hotels and organisations in Leeds. I look forward to hosting future Communication Matters events at the University.”
Helen Whittle – Chair of the Board of Trustees, Communication Matters