Graduation ceremonies are significant milestones in the lives of students and their families. These events symbolize the culmination of years of hard work and dedication—as such, it’s essential that this occasion remains accessible and inclusive to all individuals, regardless of physical or cognitive abilities.

Use this guide to learn more about the accessibility requirements outlined in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) for events like graduation ceremonies and how your school can create an inclusive and memorable event for all attendees.

With that in mind, we’ve created a list of 10 essential steps to planning a fulfilling ceremony.

The Impact of Inclusive Graduation Ceremonies

Schools should always remember that a significant part of commencement is about creating an inclusive environment where everyone, irrespective of their physical limitations or differences, can participate equally in the joy and celebration of a graduation ceremony.

When planning accessible graduation ceremonies, administrators should think about a range of aspects, such as physical accessibility of the venue, availability of assistive devices, and accommodating web content for online accessibility.

Understanding the ADA Standards

Under Title III of the ADA, which focuses on public accommodations, specific requirements apply to events and public gatherings, including graduation ceremonies. These requirements are essential to guarantee equal access to individuals with disabilities, allowing them to participate fully in significant life events.

These accessibility standards mandate that public and private entities ensure effective communication and remove physical barriers at public gatherings. Within the context of a commencement ceremony, these standards extend far beyond physical space accessibility and have a bearing on digital aspects like your graduation video, as well.

An Overview of the Requirements

To understand these guidelines a bit more, for public gatherings (and largely all settings), some of the critical components of the ADA emphasize:

  • Nondiscrimination: The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
  • Equal Opportunity: ADA requirements emphasize providing individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from public gatherings.
  • Accessible Facilities: Public venues hosting graduation ceremonies must be designed and maintained to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
  • Communication Accessibility: The ADA mandates effective communication for individuals with hearing, visual, or speech impairments.
  • Accessible Information: All printed materials and information related to the event, such as programs and announcements, must be available in accessible formats upon request.
  • Accommodations for Mobility Devices: Graduation ceremonies must accommodate individuals using mobility devices such as wheelchairs or scooters.
  • Reserved Seating: Reserved seating should be provided for individuals with disabilities and their families, ensuring they have suitable spots with unobstructed views and proximity to necessary facilities.

How Schools Should Handle Accessibility Standards

Keeping these guidelines in mind, schools should take the following approach:

1. Start With Wheelchair Accessibility

One of the fundamental requirements of the ADA is wheelchair accessibility. Ensure that all entrances exits, and seating areas are wheelchair accessible. This includes ramps with appropriate slopes on and off the stage, wide doorways, and designated wheelchair seating areas with clear pathways.

2. Provide Priority Seating for Disabled Guests and Graduates

To accommodate guests with disabilities, allocate priority seating areas with unobstructed views of the stage. It’s essential to provide seating options for individuals with mobility aids or those who may require additional space for comfort. Also, consider the needs of families with disabled graduates. Offer reserved seating close to the stage for family members who may need to provide assistance or support during the ceremony.

3. Provide Accessible Restrooms

Make sure that accessible restrooms are available near the ceremony site. These restrooms should have proper signage and meet ADA guidelines, including adequate space for maneuvering wheelchairs and grab bars for support.

4. Hire Sign Language Interpreters

Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals should have access to sign language interpreters during the ceremony. Ensure that qualified interpreters are available and have clear sightlines to the stage.

5. Offer Assistive Listening Devices

Provide assistive listening devices for guests who may have hearing impairments but do not use sign language. These devices can amplify sound, making it easier for individuals with hearing aids or cochlear implants to hear speeches and announcements clearly.

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6. Prioritize Accessible Parking

Designate accessible parking spaces near the ceremony venue and ensure they are well-marked and compliant with ADA standards. These spaces must be located close to entrances to minimize the distance individuals with disabilities need to travel.

If the venue is not reasonably close to accessible parking, or if accessible parking is limited, provide a drop-off location for family or caregivers to bring guests at the venue.

7. Create Clear Signage and Wayfinding

Provide clear and accessible signage to guide guests with disabilities around the venue. Signage should include information about accessible routes, restrooms, seating areas, and emergency exits.

8. Focus on Communication Accessibility

In addition to sign language interpreters, consider other communication needs of attendees. This may include providing captioning for videos or live speeches and ensuring that written materials are available in alternative formats upon request.

Make all event information, such as invitations, programs, and announcements, available in accessible formats. This includes providing electronic versions that can be read by screen readers and offering large print materials for those with visual impairments.

9. Consider Temporary Disabilities

Recognize that some attendees may have temporary disabilities, such as injuries or recent surgeries. Be prepared to accommodate these individuals with temporary seating or other arrangements.

10.  Prioritize Staff Training

Train event staff and volunteers to be aware of accessibility requirements and to provide assistance as needed. Ensure they are knowledgeable about the locations of accessible facilities and services.

Key Takeaway


By addressing these accessibility requirements, educational institutions can create inclusive and memorable graduation ceremonies that celebrate the achievements of all students and provide a positive experience for all attendees. Ensuring ADA compliance not only demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity but also fosters a sense of belonging and equality among graduates and their families. Remember that accessibility is an ongoing process, and it’s essential to gather feedback from attendees to identify areas for improvement.

Give Your Grads the Commencement They Deserve With StageClip

Take your graduation ceremony to the next level with personalized video clips from StageClip! We capture each grad’s special moment and automate the editing process to create memorable and shareable content. Just upload your graduate list, video link, and branding, and we’ll take care of the rest!

Our process is quick and easy: send us your graduate list and ceremony stream link, and we’ll generate a personalized clip for each grad that meets all accessibility requirements. Within days, they’ll receive a unique link to view, download, and share their special moment. And don’t worry about heavy lifting—we’ll handle it all!

Learn more about our process and contact us today.

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