The approaching close of a school year means graduation plans and summer just around the corner… But before those can happen, prom season is slated to make an appearance yet again! It’s an opportunity to dress to express, make memories, take awkward photos, and revel in being a high school student. For kids with disabilities, though, prom is not often planned with them in mind and can be inaccessible altogether.
We can change that.
Creating an inviting, memorable dance for everyone is simple if you have the right prom inclusion checklist on your side. Here’s what you should consider:
Step 1: Select an accessible venue
Location, location, location, right? The venue you choose for the big dance sets the inclusion tone in a few big ways. When searching for a space, consider ADA compliance components like clear, accessible paths and wheelchair accessibility. Space capacity and layout can also affect someone’s ability to participate at the event.
If you’re unsure of how accessible a venue will be, ask the owners or operators the following questions. They may help you identify inclusion opportunities or spot deal-breaking hindrances:
- How many people can your space accommodate?
- Are your amenities, including restrooms and common areas wheelchair-friendly?
- Are there ramps and stable railings throughout the venue?
- How many accessible parking spaces are available?
- Is there an accessible dropoff area outside the event space?
- Can the front entrance – not service entrances – accommodate all attendees?
Essentially, you’ll want to interview a venue manager to make sure it fits your inclusion goals, so consider the students you’re welcoming to the event. You could bring along students with different disabilities to share their perspectives on potential venues as well. After all, they should be included on your planning committee!
Step 2: Choose a caterer with inclusive hospitality standards
We all know that the measure of a good party is the snack table. When it comes to prom, offering a meal or dining option is common; supplying drinks to keep all the dancers and socializers hydrated is essential. Some venues have an in-house caterer or limited partners, or you may be seeking an outside service to make the menu memorable.
In any case, make sure you select a food and beverage vendor with an accommodating philosophy. Dietary restrictions and needs should be respected so every attendee has access to food and drinks throughout your event.
When inspecting menus and interviewing vendors, inquire about the availability of food options that exclude:
- Fish or Shellfish
Not every menu item needs to fit into every category, but every student should have options.
Step 3: Promote the event
You have the venue, you’ve planned the refreshments, and now it’s time to tell people about the prom you’re planning. Being intentional about how you promote your prom can support the inclusion of all students. There are plenty of different ways to promote your event that show all students that they are invited and included in the planning process.
Explain the Event
For some, the concept of prom is unfamiliar. Their questions will go beyond simply when and where the event will take place.
- What is it?
- What does it mean?
- Why is it called that?
- What do you do there?
Put together a short presentation that explains the dance and its details, extending an invite at the end. Maybe include a handout for parents, caregivers, and students to review. You can cover the history of prom, give a summary of the date, time, and attire, and include other pertinent details like what’s on the menu, how to chaperone, and when tickets will be available.
Take your prom promotions to where students already are – the classroom. Students with disabilities who are on your planning committee can help come up with presentation ideas, like videos that show diverse student groups interacting and having fun. They can also be integral in getting the message to their peers by bringing the presentations to their own classes and clubs.
This is a good time to get teachers involved, too. Enlist the help of teachers and staff in promoting the event, so that every student interested in attending has access to the information. It can be an excellent learning experience, as well, since the hallmarks of prom can be practiced in the classroom: popular dances, formal eating etiquette, proper attire, etc.
One form of promotion will not reach all students. If inclusion is your objective, add variety to your promotion plans. Create banners, but also include prom details in the morning announcements or news. Pass out flyers, but also discuss the event in classrooms.
Making banners and planning announcements is important, but getting them into view for all students is even more crucial. Place a few banners near classrooms that host students with disabilities throughout the day. Potentially tailor the messaging to let them know they are not only invited, but welcomed and included in the planning process.
If there are separate channels or announcements for special education classrooms, ensure that your prom invitations make it into their rotation as well.
Step 4: Set the scene
It’s almost party time! There are still a few details to decide, like the DJ and decorations. Inclusion should still be top of mind by this stage, as different sensory sensitivities will be at play on the big day.
Music sets the scene for the evening, so it’s an important part of creating a memorable night. Try alternating between fast and slow songs to give every student with sensory sensitivities something to look forward to. Keep the volume within safe hearing standards as well.
You can even get creative with the speaker setup to create different zones on the dance floor. An area closer to the speakers will be louder for those that want to rock out loud and proud. Then, students can enjoy the tunes in a more chill mood, further away from the speakers. It’s a win-win for every prom goer.
Uplighting, colored LEDs, and disco strobes may be common fixtures at your event venue, but be careful in how they are used. Try to set aside a block of time when lights won’t be flashing, or avoid flashing light effects altogether.
Make sure paths to amenities like restrooms are reasonably lit to avoid falls or disorientation for guests.
The way you put together all the pieces of your inclusive prom planning are rooted to your setup. Every space should be comfortably accessible for your attendees.
- Can all students get to the DJ booth to make song requests?
- Do your tables have space for wheelchairs?
- Are food and beverage service areas easily accessible to everyone?
- Are snacks set up to avoid cross-contamination as much as possible?
- Does your check-in table make it easy for all guests to get settled in?
Deliberately plan your setup to make inclusion a natural part of the venue, not a cumbersome add-on. It should feel like the space was truly designed with all students in mind.
Step 5: Find some good helpers
To pull off the perfect inclusive prom, you’ll need some help. From including students with disabilities in the planning committee to finding trustworthy chaperones, the people you have on your team will help make the event a success.
Picking out the perfect roster of responsible chaperones can be easy. Look for people who are:
- Trained in safe dance behavior
- First aid or CPR certified
- Able to escort someone in a wheelchair throughout the venue or to the restroom, if needed
- Prepared to join the fun and teach common dances to kids
- Committed to inclusion
The Best Helper? KIT!
Prom is a memorable event that allows kids to get fancy and let loose all in one night. As you start building your inclusive prom plans and the team that will help you enact them, keep KIT in mind. We have a full checklist for planning an inclusive prom, and our courses can provide lasting insights on how to instill inclusion into every event.