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Making time for accessibility consultation at the design phase.

Communications & Engagement

As part of my Communications Manager role, on a large-scale multicultural and diverse public sector programme, I have had the privilege to undertake consultations with colleagues who have a range of disabilities and neurodivergent conditions.

Listening to my colleagues I have learnt so much about the impact of colour blindness (red/green and blue), dyspraxia, deafness, nystagmus, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. Whilst I appreciate this clearly does not cover every disability or neurodivergent condition, these consultations were to form the basis of an Equality Analysis at the design stage of a new intranet.

These consultations were not about my colleagues likes and dislikes. For example, I do not like the colours lilac or peach and I like a straight line pattern over a curved one. This is about an individual’s ability to navigate content. For example, the ability to distinguish between colours, the impact of elaborate patterns, use of light and dark backgrounds and the need for immersive readers or captions.

When to bring accessibility into our programmes

As an Equality Assessor for this programme, the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 were the governing pieces of legislation for this analysis. We have a duty to make adjustments and to ensure that we do not directly or indirectly discriminate against a person with a disability or one of the nine protected characteristics. For those of you who may not know the protected characteristics, they are age, disability, gender identity, marriage and civil partnerships, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and social & economic exclusion.

All too often an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) assessment is carried out too late. Hours of design, build and testing is done without any consideration to our colleagues who have differing needs. At this stage organisation’s neither have the budget or time to make the required amendments. And an Equality Assessment statement will be written stating what will be done in the future to make it more inclusive. This simply isn’t good enough.

Consultation at the design stage (in this case for an intranet) ensures that the colour and pattern, layout, use of imagery and graphics, logos, headers, menus etc, are as accessible as possible. Taking the time to do this at the beginning ensures organisations do not waste time and money creating something that has to be redesigned at a later stage.

One size does not fit all

EDI is not just about providing the right chair or accessible software to a colleague with a disability or neurodivergent condition. Although these may also be needed. Sometimes it’s simply about giving your colleague your time to teach them (and re-teach as needed) and the time for your colleague to learn in their way e.g. memory recall over visual accessibility. Yes, there are some things that colleagues with certain conditions will not be able to do. But, with a full package of tailored support (including time) for our disabled or neurodiverse colleagues means that they can be the best version of themselves in the workplace.

One of my colleagues told me: “It is not about trying to make things equal. It is about understanding and accepting diversity.”

Every one of us is different. One size does not fit all. Our new branding will be what is most accessible to everyone based on the consultation with each of our colleagues. It will not be perfect for everyone – remember one size does not fit all. However, it will use easily recognisable colours, provide space between text and graphics, use images instead of patterns and have clear titled sections. It will be as navigable as possible for everyone on the programme.

How has this impacted my work moving forward?

What hit me most when doing these consultations was how each person genuinely thanked me for asking them to be included. It was the first time any of them had been involved in this type of activity. I was speechless and humbled. My colleagues were not straight out of school. They had all had previous work experience (some of them quite a bit!). So, why have they not been included in design consultation previously? Why is this not the norm?

I wrote earlier that this has been a real privilege for me. And I genuinely mean it. It has given me invaluable insight into the impact of colour, pattern, space, etc., on my colleagues. As a result, I will always have them metaphorically ‘standing on my shoulders’ every time I am designing future communications and engagement. This, I believe will make me a better communicator. And ultimately a better colleague. Now isn’t that worth a little of everyone’s time?

by Karen Gibbard, Principal Consultant at CMC Partnership Consultancy Ltd

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