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Timing is everything

29 August 2023

Short deadlines, tight turnarounds, late-stage applications, and last-minute plans – we advise against them. Not because of pressure – because of accessibility.

Did you know timing can be a key accessibility issue? Here we explore the different ways timing is vital for inclusive involvement.

In this blog:

  • Involvement recruitment deadlines and participant preparation time
  • Timing is everything
  • After the activities
  • Funding applications and tight turnarounds

Involvement recruitment deadlines and participant preparation time

You’re ready to go live with the promotion of involvement activities for your project to find people with lived experience. You’d like to reach out to so-called seldom heard groups and get a diverse range of people in to talk to you and share their thoughts.

If that’s the case, a quick turnaround time on the recruitment just won’t work. Short application deadlines are not inclusive, and your participants need time to prepare too.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Short deadlines mean less time for someone to complete the recruitment forms. Your applicants may need to arrange to get the forms in a different, more accessible format. They may need time to arrange a support worker, carer, friend or family member to help them complete it. It may take them more time to complete the form because perhaps they live with a neurological condition, chronic fatigue, dementia, conditions which vary from day to day, or learning difficulties. Perhaps they are a carer and overwhelmed and overstretched, and they simply need a bit more time to find to complete the forms.
  • Tight timescales mean less time for people to arrange support they need to take part. They may need to arrange an interpreter or a support worker to accompany them. Getting passenger assistance or accessible accommodation organised can be really difficult – (it shouldn’t be but let’s be realistic) – so Disabled people in particular might need extra time to sort these arrangements out. Some people might also need to organise childcare or replacement care for someone they look after. This is why it’s also very important to be clear of the time commitment of the activity so people can make arrangements accordingly.
  • Some people who experience anxiety, mental health problems, or who find forward planning, routine and preparation vital to their positive involvement – (this may particularly apply to people who are neurodivergent) – will really appreciate that extra time to prepare in advance, scope out the venue and travel arrangements, make plans, and mentally prepare.
  • A lack of adequate planning and preparation time means you leave yourself with less time to find an accessible venue that meets the needs of those taking part, to find translators, BSL interpreters, captioners, and to organise the accommodations and adjustments that can make a real difference to people.
  • Make sure you have time to prepare materials and send them to participants in advance of activities, giving them time to read through, prepare, and absorb relevant information. You also need to leave yourself time to prepare materials in accessible formats.

Download our infographic with timescales and tips for planning inclusive meetings.

Download a text-only version of the infographic

Timing is everything

While we’re on the subject of timing, your involvement activities should be scheduled with accessibility in mind. Remember, everyone is different, so may have different needs at different times. Even if people have the same impairment or condition, they may manage it very differently or have very different needs.

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to timing issues (some of these are more relevant to in-person events and others apply to both online and in-person events):

  • Early morning meetings may force people to use rush hour transport. This may not be practical for people who need extra time, space and assistance, and peak travel times can also be more expensive. It may also be difficult for those with anxieties about travel and crowds. Early mornings may also be inaccessible for people who take daily medication which takes a little while to take effect.
  • If you’ve got parents attending, try to avoid school drop off and pick up times.
  • Think about culturally and religiously appropriate timings. Does your event clash with prayer times? Church attendance? Does it fall on a day or during a time that’s spiritually significant to certain communities or religions?
  • If you find people can make certain times and other people can only make other times, then try to alternate the time of activities to allow as many people to participate as possible.
  • Evening events – if you have an evening finish please give thought to people’s safety and comfort in getting home. Not everyone has access to a car. Some people may find being out at night worrying or perhaps they don’t feel comfortable on their route home after dark. If you are going to hold an event in the evening, consider what transport arrangements will help people to feel safe and comfortable getting there and back.
  • Sharing food and thoughts can be a great way to connect with people, just make sure the food timings are sensitive to people’s religious observances or medical requirements. Some people may be fasting for religious or medical purposes and only eat at certain times of the day, for example, during Ramadan for Muslims. People who are managing particular conditions may need flexibility to eat at certain times, especially if they are taking medication with food or find their impairments can be exacerbated by eating at the wrong times. Allow flexibility and consideration when thinking about food timings and make it clear to all participants, so they don’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about asking for flexibility if needed.
  • Break times – some people need regular breaks for a variety of reasons. For example, a break every ten minutes for people with learning difficulties to take ‘time out’, talk with their support worker, talk to each other or whatever they wish, might be necessary. This can be positive and have benefits for the entire group and for some specific impairment groups, for example hearing impaired people who are lip reading or following a sign language interpreter, people with pain who need to move frequently, or those with continence problems. The interpreter themselves may need a break.
  • Breaks should be at least 10 minutes and preferably 15 minutes as a standard. Ask the people involved how long they need without making it difficult for someone to ask for a longer break than others. People may need to do a number of things in breaks such as resting or taking medication. People with assistance dogs need sufficient time to allow their dog to toilet.
  • Schedules – many people find routines and schedules helpful, but this is particularly true for people who are neurodivergent. For example, an Autistic person may feel more confident with a clear schedule of activities which sticks to the promised timings. If someone has arranged childcare support or care, then a schedule which overruns could be really difficult. We suggest making a clear timetable, providing it well in advance, and sticking to it.
  • Allow plenty of time for your meeting so that every issue can be thoroughly discussed and everyone has a chance to comment. Do not cram agendas with unrealistic amounts of things to discuss and agree.

We have guidance on choosing accessible venues – and running inclusive events. Click on the links to read more:

After the activities

Even when the involvement is finished, the timing of certain activities is still vital.

Don’t let too much time go by before thanking your participants and feeding back to them – “you said, we did” or providing any promised resources, write ups, additional resources and thoughts about what can be achieved based on their involvement.

Expenses, payments, reimbursements – these should be dealt with swiftly. Timing is a key issue here for people. If they are waiting for reimbursement of expenses it could affect other payments or bills they have. We are currently in a cost of living crisis where often people have very little income at their disposal. Don’t leave your participants out of pocket by making them wait weeks or even months for reimbursement.

Funding applications and tight turnarounds

If you’re in the planning stages for user involvement, allow yourself realistic timescales. Involvement isn’t something that should be rushed.

“By allowing sufficient time for a service user involvement activity it can change the outcome from a tokenistic experience to a meaningful and productive one.” A guide for service providers and practitioners – organising involvement activities with Disabled people, p.6

If you are applying for funding, you should factor in public involvement from the start and contact any relevant partner organisations for quotes and discussions well in advance. Shoehorning involvement into a late stage application means user-led or community groups, who may operate with few part-time staff, or just volunteers, have less time to look over the application, amend or approve it, and provide quotes for their involvement in the project.

Tight turnarounds are often very difficult for smaller user-led organisations to manage. They have the expertise you need, but they may have less time than you to dedicate to the application process so please be considerate of this when applying for funding.

Further reading: