In my role as a M.E and disability advocate, I have delivered talks to businesses about how to include disabled people without them having to disclose their disability. This can be done very simply. All you have to do is supply the things that would make their lives easier, promote that you are accessibility friendly and your disabled customers will be happy that they are able to use your additional service with minimal fuss. This includes things such as different colour paper, accessibility stations, visual aids and disabled access. Unless you either are disabled or have a loved one with a disabling condition, you may not understand the impact that singling yourself out, or having to justify your requirements has on self-esteem and morale. This is why invisible inclusion is incredibly important and should be implemented in workplaces. As well as disabilities, there are various health conditions that should be considered by businesses. The one that I will concentrate on in this article is food intolerance, something which is one symptom of many illnesses, M.E for example.

In recent months, I have been to a number of business networking events and have had to deal with there being no gluten or dairy free food available. I have had to stand around like a muppet waiting for kitchen staff to cook up something special just for me (Other attendees have usually finished by the time I get my food), or had to go hungry while everyone else tucks in to the copious amounts of food that has been provided by the organisers.

I won’t name names but there is one networking group organiser in Portsmouth that recognises intolerances and always makes sure I have my own food set aside. She makes a point of reminding me that it’s there waiting for me. The organiser is one of my LinkedIn connections…thank you.

However, I would like to say that special one-to-one treatment isn’t always necessary. Why not provide a selection of gluten-free sandwiches/buffet food as a matter of course if you are holding a large event? Promote that gluten-free food will be readily available at the event on the booking form. I have met so many business people who also have intolerances but would rather eat glutenous food or go hungry than have the faff of having someone find them something to eat. If you organise events, you should consider how many of your attendees went hungry or made themselves feel unwell/uncomfortable because you didn’t meet their dietary requirements.

Gluten-free food is edible… It might have a different texture and not taste quite as nice as ‘normal’ food, but it can be eaten by anyone at your event. So, don’t think ‘it won’t be eaten if we don’t have gluten-free eaters at the event’, you may not have vegetarians attend either and yet many organisers supply vegetarian food.

I have recently had 5 people (catering/organisers/cafe) running around trying to get me something to eat at an event. Despite the fact that there was a 20 ft table covered entirely with food – glutinous food. The whole process took about half an hour. I was internally mortified (I hate being ‘the other’ – I was the only person who disclosed having intolerances) and would rather have gone without. I eventually managed to get my hands on a tuna roll. I was very grateful for the efforts and the team did go above and beyond. However, if this food had been available as a matter of course there wouldn’t have been an issue.

Maybe this is the time to get rid of a tick box on the booking form. You know, the one that asks about dietary requirements? Simply offer a wider range of food to your attendees.

Invisible inclusion is the way forward. See it as a USP for your business and your events.

p.s. Intolerances are not allergies. Anyone with a severe allergy to nuts/shellfish etc wouldn’t touch buffet food at an event.