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Planning an ADA-Compliant Graduation Ceremony

After 13 years of school, a high school graduation ceremony is an honor in which every student deserves to participate, and one which families and friends deserve to see. It’s a great example of why the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was made federal law.

The ADA states that both public and private school systems must ensure programs and activities are accessible for students and family members with disabilities. This includes accessible routes and usable access solutions for students and families to participate in an ADA-compliant graduation ceremony.

It’s important to note that an ADA-compliant graduation ceremony calls for more than just a single wheelchair ramp. There are several factors that contribute to a successful event, including staff coordination and easy instructions for friends and family of graduates. To hold an outstanding ceremony that is accessible to all, we’ve developed this ADA checklist for school administrators to prepare for their graduation ceremony.

Site Selection  

Creating an ADA-compliant event begins with selecting an appropriate site for the graduation ceremony.

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  • When looking at facilities off-site, ensure that the venue is in full compliance and providing the necessary accommodations for your guests.
  • If you are planning on having an in-house graduation ceremony, such as in your school’s gymnasium or theater,  the designated ADA Coordinator (most likely a member of the school staff) for the graduation ceremony should keep the following in mind when preparing the location. And, as always, reference ADA guidelines to determine if there are access barriers and if additional accommodations can or should be made

Necessary Accommodations  

illustration of an accessible parking lot

Parking Access  

  • Signs for accessible parking spaces must be visible
  • There must be a safe path from the parking lot all the way to the accessible seating areas and bathrooms
  • Signs indicating the accessible route from the parking lot to seats and bathrooms must also be visible
  • Must have an appropriate ratio of accessible parking spaces in the parking lot


graduation stage with the TITAN product that includes accessible ramp access

Stage Access

  • Add ADA-compliant Ramps to the elevated stage for graduates to safely, enter and exit, no matter their physical abilities

illustration of accessible audience seating

Audience Access  

  • In addition to a clear path to and from the ceremony space and bathrooms, the venue should also have seats available for individuals who use mobility devices
  • Wheelchair spaces need to be present on all levels of seating area
  • For more specific guidelines, reference the Assembly Areas section of the ADA Standards

Notice of Accommodations  

illustration of an accessible graduation brochure

It’s important to notify attendees of your accommodations, so they can plan in advance where to go when they arrive and where their family can all sit together.  

To do this, you can include a map on invitations and programs that highlight accessible routes and seating areas. For an ADA-compliant venue, include clear signage at the venue directing individuals toward accessible routes. This includes signs for handicap parking, paths to the building or arena, and signs near accessible seating.

When creating invitations and programs, keep individuals of all abilities in mind. Printed materials for the graduation ceremony should be created with the following considerations:  

  • The font should be simple and easy to read
  • Consider printing alternative materials such as large additions, Braille or electronic versions
  • Send a confidential request form for individuals to indicate that they will need accommodation (Follow the suggestions above for accessibility with this as well)
  • Update your district’s website with access information and maps for accessible routes

Staff Coordination and Training  

illustration of staff training for accessible parking plans

Once you have the venue set up with access solutions and accessible routes, it’s time to train your staff.  

Even if the ceremony site is accessible, it could still result in ADA violations if the staff does not know how to direct individuals to an accessible route.

Hold a staff meeting for all administration that will be in attendance at the graduation ceremony and address the following:  

  • Identify a staff member to oversee ADA compliance for the graduation ceremony
  • Determine how staff members will provide assistance to individuals with disabilities who did not provide advanced notice.
  • Ensure all staff members know ADA standards for the event and are comfortable providing that information to guests
  • Conduct a practice run of the ceremony to remedy any unforeseen barriers to access

At EZ-ACCESS, we specialize in commercial-grade ramping that offers ADA-compliant accommodations.

To get help updating an existing facility for an ADA-compliant graduation ceremony, give us a call. One of our school accessibility experts will walk you through how to make your location accessible from ramp sizing to installation.

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