Accessible congress

Summary of the guidelines for an accessible congress

A congress where everyone can feel welcome starts with:

  • A welcoming location
  • Room for experiential expertise
  • Support for everyone
  • Accessible congress book
  • Organize together

Download the full summary of the guidelines for an accessible congress.


The art of belonging

A congress that makes you feel welcome

Welcome to our site! The detailed document below is composed after our third Disability Studies Congress with the theme: ‘The Art of Belonging’. Here is a summary on one A4 sized PDF file.

Disability Studies in Nederland tries to shape this title in different ways:

Room for experiental expertise

Disability Studies wants to give a voice to experience-centered stories. The personal experience came to the foreground this congress. We gave people the chance to express their experience by means of word, image, theater, music, ... This way stories come to light that otherwise, presented in a more traditional way, wouldn’t be told during conferences.

A welcoming place

The congress zoomed in on ‘The Art of Belonging’: everyone matters and feels welcome. Everyone’s individuality and talent were seen and appreciated, in contrast to the inequality, exclusion, and stigma we see worldwide.

Support for everyone

We want to do what we say! We emphasize accesability on our congress. With a support bar we organized silent (!) support for everyone who wishes this or needs it. We had whispering interpreters, sign language interpreters, writing interpreters, people to give you directions, places to come to rest, ...  People who didn’t speak English could count on translators and whispering interpreters. We had workshops in clear language, and creative workshops that invite people to learn in different ways than verbal language.

Congress book

We created a congress book with blank space for your own thoughts, words, and drawings. During our congress there are workshops that are accessible to a broad audience, also for people who do not speak or understand the english language. These workshops have been indicated with an icon and with the NL symbol. The more academic workshops and readings are not indicated with an icon or translation in the book. People who needed help reading the congress book or making choices could ask for support at our counter. If people needed a translation or another kind of help to enjoy the more academic or abstract workshops they could let us know.

We all learn differently

We are different. We all communicate and learn in different ways. You can find more on this by the item UDL, beneath theme 7: ‘Ode to diversity’.
Our congress offered an especially colorful palette: readings, poster presentations, theater, music, dance, active workshops, and deepening academic explanations alternate between each other. Besides there was a ‘drawing laboratory’, stand-up comedy, room for ‘chilling’ and rest, delicious food, drinks, and opportunities to meet people.
The congress book contains both pictures and text to make it as clear as possible.


We tried our best to make this congress as accessible as possible. But we surely have forgotten certain things. What works for one person, might not work for another. Thus we invite visitors during our congress to support each other so that we all would have optimal chances to learn. So that we all can get inspiration and enjoy nice meetings and new ideas. Thank you to all attendees, employees, partners, volunteers, sponsors, and involved for realising our congress.

Special thanks to Instituut Gak. Thanks to their financial support we were able to organise our congress inclusive and create this document.

For additions, comments or questions about our congress you can contact

We have bundled our tips and ideas for organising an accessible congress in 10 themes. This is not a ‘manual’ but information from our experience, findings, and evaluations when onrganising congreses: as inclusive and welcoming as possible, celebrating diversity.

  • Conference The Art Of Belonging 2017 logo
  • Noëlle van den Heuvel and somebody else
  • Hanna Blom with daughter Jasmijn
  • Belaynesh Tefera and Annica Brummel
  • Food
  • Logo Instituut GAK

Theme 1: Inclusive

Because of this document with word, picture, and video and because of all powerpoints we made available, the people who could not attend our congress were still able to enjoy and learn from our inclusive congress.

Director of DSiN Dr. Alice Schippers gives further explanation about ‘The Art of Belonging’ in this video.

In our congress are people with a disability involved with preparations, organising, coordinating, carrying out, working out, evaluating… In this video Alex Naber is talking. He also talks about how the congress gives a feeling to people that they belong and that this is the most important to him. Some tips from our experience with organising accessible events:

  • Organise your congress at a place that is already accessible because this is the fundament on which you build everything;
  • If you think about physical accessibility, also think of the stage, the reception, the lunch (not just on standing tables);
  • Think of the safety of all attendees at your event: Marianne Dijkshoorn and Syan Schaap wrote about this on this blog;
  • Inform and discuss well with the managers of the congress location what the meaning of your congress is;
  • Make sure that you collaborate with people with a disability in every stage of the process of congress organisation (preparation, coordination, on the stage, in the audience, during the evaluation,…);
  • Stress the use of clear language with speakers;
  • Together think about how experiental knowledge of persons with a disability  can reach the audience;
  • Assume diversity of the public: we all have differernt styles of learning (we learn via listening and watching, but also through moving, experiencing, doing, tasting, smelling, collaborating, …);
  • A congress is an explosion of sound, movement, content, meetings…: thus, ensure there are quiet spaces, rooms where people can retreat, where people can rest for a while;
  • Organise a support-bar© in narrow collaboration with people with a disability: more text and image about this in a next theme.
  • Last, bu not least: “Having money to attend a conference is just as important as having access to the information that goes alongside it. Although many academics can receive financial support from their university to participate in conferences in their own country and abroad, many people with a mental disability that are involved with inclusive research not directly associated with a university and they have no access to automatic financial support for conferences. In addition are many people with a mental disability in poorly paid, part-time jobs if they even have a job (Emerson et al. 2011; KNPD 2011) and it is unlikely that they will be able to pay for all the earnings themselves.” From: Anne-Marie Callus (2017) Making disability conferences more actively inclusive, Disability & Society, 32:10, 1661-1665, p. 1664.
    On our congress we strive to provide an answer by giving people with a disability a chance to help as volunteers on our congress (and in this way attend for free) and by offerning them a reduced rate.
  • Prof. Dr. Tineke Abma interviews Alex Naber during the plenary session
  • Researchers SWSL Kim van den Boogaard, Henriëtte Sandvoort and Sofie Sergeant
  • Keynote Speaker Prof. Dr. Michael Stein
  • DSiN-workers Irene van Helden, Marianne Dijkshoorn and Minne Bakker
  • Included in Training and Work. Lorentz Workshop Report. 2017.

Theme 2: Support Bar

On our congress ‘The Art of Belonging’ everyone way able to ask for support beforehand or in the moment at our friendly ‘support bar’. This bar was decorated with a table, comfortable chairs, and low tables. With the enthusiastic but careful bartenders, people could ask all their questions. Beforehand we had thought about how we could help people. Our basic offer contained: boxes with coins, magnifying glasses, drinking bowls for dogs, boxes with band-aids, a stock on aspirins, reading glasses, a digital version of the congress book, a printer to print out large-size documents. We had two types of bartenders: ones that stayed at the bar and the ‘flying keeps’. The bartenders at the bar could offer explanations with the congress book or about the structure of the congress, they could offer you a drink, make conversation, … the flying keeps appeared also very important: they could come along if you didn’t know the way, they could walk your dog or find someone to do it for you, they could accompany you to a calm space if you needed a time out or take medication, they could search for a translator or whispering interpreter, a writing interpreter or a sign language interpreter. In this video you can hear and see Corrie Tijsseling talk about the importance of the theme ‘belonging’ and also to bridge the world of the ‘hearing’ and ‘not-hearing’.

It was very important that the bartenders were aware of the congress, its contents, the timing, and the spaces. In addition, it appeared also important that the bartender had ‘feeling’ and for example saw hoe people entered shy or insecure. The bartender didn’t wear a uniform of any sorts and could in this way approach someone in a casual manner to ask if they could be of any help, if everything was to their liking… silent support: this was what we were aiming for. It means that you support in such a way that you keep the others dignity.

One of our bartenders was our DSiN secretary Gerda van Wees. Joëlle Spoelder and Marion Keizer from Kennisplein Gehandicaptensector were present on our congress. They interviewed attendees and asked them about their own experiences and their sense of feeling-at-home on our congress. These interviews and atmosphere-images are bundled in this video. In the video Gerda talks about her work at the support bar and how she, for example, helped someone understand the DSiN-cartoons.

  • Henriëtte Sandvoort and Jan Jaap Koorevaar with a drink at the support bar
  • Alex Naber at the support bar
  • Coordinator of the support bar Sofie Sergeant
  • René Krewinkel at the DSiN cartoons, made by himself

Theme 3: The congress book

We created a congress book with blank space for your own thoughts, words, and drawings. The congress attendees could choose if they wanted a physical copy of the congress book and/or a digital version. For people with a visual disability it appeared handy to not only offer a PDF version, but also a DOC version.

During our congress there were workshops that were accessible to a wide audience, also to people that didn’t speak or understand English. We indicated these workshops in the congress book with an explanatory icon and with the NL symbol. With the NL symbol was also a Dutch translation of the abstract. The cultural programme was also described in two languages in the congress book. These texts were also displayed in the space during the presentation or exhibition.

The more academic workshops and readings were not indicated with an icon or translation in the book.

If people needed help with going through the congress book -for example when making decisions- they could go to the support bar to ask for assistance.

Durability is of great value to us. We wanted to create a congress book that becomes a reference book with personal notes afterwards. People were to decide for themselves what they put in their congress bag and whether they deemed a paper congress book helpful. More about this in ‘Theme 4: Pimp Your Bag’.

  • Sofie Sergeant, Irene van Helden and Noëlle van den Heuvel with the congress book in their hands
  • Cultural Programme in Dutch
  • View of the entrance where the visitors got the congress book

Theme 4: Pimp Your Bag

At the entrance there was a long, low, decorated table. The table laid full of materials that we -completely without cost- received from our sponsors. Booklets, folders, ballpoint pens, boxes, compasses, … our congress bags were made of durable materials and contained one of our DSiN-cartoons. A wooded DSiN keyring hanged from the bag as well. At the Pimp Your Bag Stand people were invited to choose a bag (with accompanied cartoon) and fill it with their materials of choice. People were able to walk around the table for themselves and choose. This way, every congress goer had their own personalised bag. And you didn’t receive things you would just throw away afterwards.

At this stand there were employees that could offer explanations and help.

This way, people were actively concerned and invited at the entrance to think about ‘what suits me?’, ’What do I bring along?’, ‘Who am I in relation to the theme?’. We received amazing reactions to the Pimp Your Bag happening.

The bags were designed and made by De Postkamer in Nijkerk. At De Postkamer people with and without disabilities work together.

  • The cartoons for the Pimp Your Bag - bag
  • The Pimp Your Bag - stand

Theme 5: Cultural Programme

Having the right to belong, that isn’t enough. We need spaces where we can feel good and recovered. We need spaces where we can flourish and contribute. During our congress we have attempted to create this space. In hotel CASA DSiN found a welcoming space. With creative and inspiring workshops, we want to give access to knowledge to everyone through word, image, voice, music, dance, film, and meetings. How important this is, is beautifully addressed by Prof. Tobias Büchner in this video.  There weren’t just creative workshops, there was also a cultural programme designed by DSiN. This programme was accessible to everyone and contained multiple exhibitions/presentations:

  • United by music, All star band sang the Blues for us!

    Sometimes, the music was calm but sometimes the music was intense and present. For some people, it was therefore important to be notified, to be able to take enough distance, and to not have to be engulfed. For people with auditory disabilities you should have a sign language interpreter translate the lyrics simulaneously, or project the lyrics, or let the rhythm dance live. This have to be preparated thoroughly and the songs need to be known with the interpreters beforehand. With the All star band this last point is not evident because they like to decide their songs to play on the spot, depending on the atmosphere and reactions from the audience. What works for one, might not work for the other. Discussing this thoroughly beforehand is worth its weight in gold. The musicians weren’t just present on stage but they were also able to attend the full program of the congress. United by Music is a live band that in the moment – dependant on the atmosphere and mood- decides which songs they play. Suppose that the band does decide beforehand what to play, you can let ‘sign dancers’ translate on stage, with both hand gestures and rhythmic dance. At Sencity 2018 – organised by Possibilize – we saw fantastic sign dancers working. We’ll let you enjoy it in this video for a moment.

  • Michel. Actor loses the words. Film

    Michel van Dousselaere (Gent, 1948) is an actor. In 2014 a rare type of aphasia was discovered in him, a brain condition that affects the speech centre. In the documentary Michel you can see how he manages the loss of his words and of his craft that he has practiced for so long. On our congress a 30 minute preview (english subtitled) was shown in attendance of the actor and the filmmakers. Here you can find more information about the film. This calm and intimate moment on our congress was very appreciated by our attendees. The audience left the room emotionally. With image, sound, and subtitles, the film was accessible for many.

  • Robin Hood, Brother Tuck, back to the forest? Theater, live performance in the Drawing lab

    Jan Troost & his companions want to be at home amidst society. They work for good education, a good home, work, healthcare, privacy,… in society, for people with a disability, for everyone. On our congress Robin Hood and Brother Tuck welcome the people and show the way to the support bar: the bar where everyone can hang, have a talk, or ask for help. Robin Hood and Brother Tuck offered the guests a spot in the Drawing Lab as well, where you can draw and talk in peace about: what makes it that you feel at home here or somewhere else? What is ‘belonging’ to you? You can read more about the experiences of Jan Troost on his blog.

  • The Drawing Lab that we established on our congress is inspired from the drawing lab as a research method, designed by Sofie Sergeant.  It gives the possibility to people to express themselves differently than through words. This way we receive experience stories that we otherwise wouldn’t or more difficulty could discover. In this stop motion clip you can get an idea as to how the Drawing Lab is organised and why.

  • I am, so i belong

    Margriet van Kampenhout delivered during the congress dinner her live performance about the art of ‘belonging’ by people who dare to be themselves. In this video Margriet talks about her addition to our congress and about the contents of her story she told us. The story of Margriet was recited in English. This story is filmed by Jan Troost and watchable here. By clicking on the bar below the video, you can see english subtitles. Here you can watch the video with dutch subtitles. For people who couldn’t speak english very well there was a paper version of the text in dutch. There was a paper version of the text in english as well for people with an auditive disability.

  • The traveler and the reproduction

    Belgian artist Saar De Buysere researched new techniques and works with non-evident materials. As a city planner or architect she brings different elements together. This way something of an ideal surrounding, a place where you can feel at home originates, that gives off relaxation. The exhibition with the works of Saar De Buysere was to be admired during our congress at the hotel CASA. Even after the congress the hotel put the works up for exhibition during the months of January and Febuary 2018.

    For DSiN De Buysere designed the trees that give structure and image to the study- and lesson materials on the website of DSiN. Every month the Kennisplein Gehandicaptensector puts the spotlight on one of our trees, so that the wide audience can enjoy them as well. Here you can find the overview of the series on the Kennisplein.

    Based on the trees of Saar De Buysere René Krewinkel ( made the DSiN-cartoon series ‘Mixed Forest’. The trees and the cartoons were exhibitioned during the congress. With images we want to clarify the themes connected to the area Disability Studies via image to a wide audience. The images and cartoons appeal many and are low threshold and funny.


  • Alex Naber & Alice Schippers
  • All Star Band at the stage
  • Singer of the All Star Band
  • Geert Van Hove and Alice Schippers
  • Poster Michel
  • Drawing Lab
  • Spirit at the Drawing Lab
  • Margriet van Kampenhout in company during the conference dinner
  • Original tree drawings made by Saar De Buysere
  • DSiN Cartoons made by René Krewinkel

Theme 6: UN convention

On June 14, 2016 the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was ratified by the Netherlands. We advise to use this UN convention as a guideline and hold for organising inclusive events.

“The ratification of this agreement is an important acknowledgement of equal rights of people with a disability. The goal of the UN agreement is to promote that all people with a disability have the same human rights and fundamental freedoms. The agreement is of large meaning for legislation in the area of care but also for decisions on municipal level. For example, regulations on transport, Wmo, Youth Act and Participation Act may not contradict the agreement.”
from: blog written by DSiN chairman Willem de Gooyer with co-authors Jenneke van Veen and Mieke Hollander for the website of Skipr.

Keyote Speaker on our congress Prof. Dr. Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapo explains in this clip why the ratification is such an important milestone and a guideline for the arrangement of our society, of congresses, and events.

  • DSiN-chairman Willem de Gooyer in a conversation on our congress
  • Doortje Kal with a child on her lap on our congress

Theme 7: Ode to diversity

To understand why we arranged our congress in an inclusive way it is important to know the perspective of Disability Studies well. Might you want to know more about this, take a look at our study materials on our DSiN website at the theme ‘About Disability Studies’.

The interdisciplinary area Disability Studies studies disability as a complex societal phenomenon. Disability Studies assumes that concepts used – like ‘constraint’, ‘handicap’, ‘disability’- are social constructs whose meanings are subject to changes in time, place, and context. In this research and education field we look at how disability becomes meaningful and is represented in society and how changes can (or may) be brought about in it. How society views disability has far-reaching repercussions for the life of people and society. Disability Studies acknowledges handicaps as a normal part of human life in all its diversity.

Disability Studies focusses on the emancipation of people with disabilities. People with different limitations are naturally involved in all possible roles. Disability studies aims to contribute to the conditions for an inclusive society and its associated policy. This concerns all areas of life, such as leisure, housing, education, work and health.

"It is especially fascinating to see that disability studies cannot simply be included in schemes. Apparently, especially border crossings and connections between the different parts of the schemes are interesting to gain insights into the finer points of the field. This proves once again its 'postmodern status'." (Van Hove, 2009, p.173)

Two clips where we ask guests on our congress about the Disability Studies perspective:

  • In this clip you can listen to the inspiring words of Dr. Damian Milton about diversity in the group of autistic people. May you find it difficult to listen, here you can find the interview written out.
  • Jac de Bruijn, member of the Board of Directors at Prisma, tells in this video about our conference and the important focus on inclusive research, and the importance of this.

We would also like to introduce you to the principles of Universal Design. These principles come from the world of architecture. The aim is to design buildings and public spaces in such a way that they are accessible to as diverse an audience as possible.

Applied to learning - Universal Design for Learning - means: making learning more accessible and challenging so that we offer learning opportunities to a very diverse group. UDL in a nutshell:

  1. Offer information in different ways. Have your audience read, listen, watch a movie and work with a mind map, for example.
  2. Have your audience process what they have learned in different ways. Have them process the information into a poster, a YouTube video, a Facebook page or a classic schedule.
  3. Involve the public as much as possible at the workshop. Play on interests. Work with examples from their world.

On the DSiN website you will find all kinds of information in word, image and sound on the theme Universal Design for Learning. We have asked our speakers to apply these principles as much as possible in their lectures and workshops.

  • Sign language interpreter
  • Conference Dinner
  • A musician of United by Music is speaking
  • Guide dog for blind people
  • Social encounters at the welcome desk
  • ?, Karin van den Bosch, Imogen Vermeulen and Diederik Weve drinking coffee

Theme 8: Inclusive research

"Nothing about us without us"

One of our streams focused on 'inclusive research': doing the research together with the people involved in the research. As a result, many researchers with a disability, with experiential knowledge, with experiential expertise ... were also present.

At this congress we gave space to experiential stories. We gave the opportunity to express experiences through the word, the image, film, theatre, music, etc. This also brought to light stories that would otherwise not be told at conferences in a more traditional way of presenting.

The first photo on the right pictures Henriëtte Sandvoort, involved in participatory research 'Working together to learn together'.

Among them two of the many tweets that circulated during our congress with the message:

- "Stunning presentation of multimedia productions by autistic people."

- "Space for everybody's story, also to ensure deepening of experiences."

  • Henriëtte Sandvoort and Sofie Sergeant work together in the research project 'Working together, learning together'
  • Stunning Presentation of multimedia productions by autistic people
  • Space for everybody's story

Theme 9: Atmosphere

If we focus on the evaluations and reactions we received as a result of our congress, then one facet pops up: the inviting welcoming atmosphere. And we are happy with that. We quote a few comments below. From these reactions it appears that this is not only 'fun', but also necessary to make real encounter and insinuating learning possible.

"I thought you were enormously worthy of consideration.
Such a nice atmosphere at the conference.
In itself the proof of how nice life can be - if it becomes normal to deviate."

"The people are amazing and so welcoming!"

"That we were free to choose whatever we liked. And that we can have a break when its necessary."

"Great atmosphere - diversity of participants - accessibility."

"The atmosphere is great! The program, very diverse, a nice blend of practice research etc.... That it is not very large in number of participants gives a "homey" and warm approachable opportunities."

"Accessibility, variety in programs, organization, inspiration."

"The welcome was fabulous, the friendliness and helpfulness of everyone working for this conference was just wonderful!"

"Ambience, community feeling, friendliness. Accessibility in general."

"Expressing the art of belonging!!"

  • Belaynesh Tefera and Annica Brummel
  • Jacqueline Kool and Alice Schippers

Theme 10: Team

An accessible congress is best organized together with a team of very different people, with various talents and with attention to various facets.

Collaboration with experience experts in the organizing and in the scientific committee is an absolute must! In this way you have the experiential knowledge from the start and you can consider the experience and lessons of people with disabilities in the design of your conference.

As a team, speak with all cooperating partners (congress office, location managers, catering, sponsors, technical service) so that everyone is aware of the necessity of inclusiveness in the project. It is not just about hospitality. It is important to anticipate a great diversity in the audience, and to create a place where everyone feels: here I can bring something and here I can get something.

  • We are ready for the conference - tweet send by the organising committee of DSiN
  • Logo DSiN