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The why, what, how and benefits of accessible communications.

25 October 2023

Communications & Engagement

The why

Scope, the disability equality charity in England and Wales, estimates there are 16 million (1 in 4) disabled people living in the UK. That’s 23% of the working population and 45% of pension aged adults. 1.5 million people have a learning disability, 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, 2 million people are living with sight loss, 12 million people have hearing loss greater than 25dBHL and over 151,000 people use British Sign Language. These are just some of the diverse conditions that can prevent people from accessing information and communications when they are not designed and delivered with accessibility in mind.

I’m hoping these statistics give sufficient justification as to ‘why’ accessibility is fundamental to communications. But, just in case – Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines that access to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, is a fundamental human right.

The what

Now, let’s move on to the ‘what’… what is meant by accessible communications? Put simply, it is about making information easy to understand and available to a diverse audience – including people with disabilities or communication barriers. The aim is to enable accessibility and provide an equivalent user experience for everyone, regardless of their communications needs.

However, accessibility is not just about designing communications for one impairment or condition. It’s about designing every communication inclusively to meet a wide range of needs.

The how

So, how can one communication meet the multiple needs of individuals with visual, hearing, cognitive or motor impairments, as well as people with learning difficulties? For me, it starts with the same two questions before I start to every time – “who is my audience?” and “what accessibility needs must I consider?”.

  1. Identify the needs of your audience

    It may sound simple. But ask yourself, how well do you really know your audience? Do you know their communications needs? Do they use screen readers, colour filters, transcription, auto generated subtitles, or dark mode? Educate yourself about these tools. Learn how they help to meet people’s accessibility needs and how your communications may be impacted or altered by their use. This will guide you in how you create your communications.
  2. Create a user test groupInvolve members of your audience (with accessibility needs) to help you design your communications. This will not only save you time and money in the long run but prevent you making accessibility mistakes when going live with your communications.I had the privilege of working on a programme recently where I formed a test user group for the development of a new intranet. It was made up of individuals with a wide range of accessibility needs and I made sure they were involved at every stage from design to launch. Not only did we deliver an accessible digital platform, but that user group taught me more about communications for diverse audiences than I ever imagined possible.
  3. Create audience personasIf you are not able to create a user group, consider creating example personas for different types of conditions – visual, auditory, motor and speech, cognitive or seizure disorders – to highlight the barriers users face, and the adjustments and tools they require when accessing communications.
  4. Conduct accessibility reviewsAccessibility reviews are a great way to identify and address barriers that might prevent people with disabilities from being able to access your communications. These reviews will help to support inclusivity, avoid discriminating against people with disabilities and increase your audience.But don’t think that one review is all that you need to do. Reviewing communications for accessibility is an ongoing process and must be done regularly. Think of it as part of your continuous improvement process.
  5. Tips for accessible communications 

– Use simple plain language that your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.
– Use headings, lists and tables organised in a logical order to help your audience navigate your communications.
– Ensure keyboard accessibility and user-friendly navigation and provide alternative formats of your communications for any visual, audio, and multimedia content.
– Think about people’s cognitive differences and do not rely on the use of colour for your communications.
– For websites and other web content make sure you follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
– Communicate the accessibility tools and assistance available for your communications.
– Create channels for feedback from your audiences, and don’t forget to review and improve your communications based on the feedback.

The benefits

Accessible communications help make communications, and ultimately any change initiatives, more inclusive, increasing engagement, improving wider understanding, boosting participation, enhancing your reputation, uplifting employee morale and productivity, and maximising success. This not only benefits your organisation and stakeholders but your whole audience.

Why wouldn’t you make your communications accessible? If you’re still questioning ‘why’, do contact me and we can arrange a coffee catch up to discuss.

By Karen Gibbard, Head of Communications & Engagement at CMC

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