Today’s blog is a guest post by Julie Donovan, Director of External Relations at Empowerment Through Integration. Enjoy!
One billion people with disabilities live in today’s world. Unfortunately, most of the challenges they face in society don’t come from their own inabilities, but rather an environment that is not always accessible. The ever-increasing technological world presents opportunities for all of us to consume content, but content is not always accessible to everyone. As communication pros, we should strive to include everyone. Here are some tips to make your content inclusive for people with disabilities.
Make your photos accessible
Accompany all photos with a descriptive caption so that everyone can understand what they depict. Visual content—including photographs, videos, and infographics—are a great way to diversify your strategy, and many sighted people obtain information quicker from visuals than they do from writing. However, just because people with visual impairment cannot visually process images does not mean that they aren’t interested in what they depict!
At ETI, we make sure to caption all visuals with descriptions. For example, here is a caption that accompanies one of our Facebook photos: [In the picture: ETI Program Manager Azzam To’meh speaks to a group of volunteers]. This is information that a person with visual impairment would not be able to understand without a caption.
Make your videos accessible
Include a voiceover explaining what is going on in the video and stay away from simply playing music behind footage. For example, one of our team members edited a video for us depicting the activities taking place during our summer youth programs. Sounds like a typical video you’d see on your Facebook feed, right?
Well, videos edited without dialogue are not accessible to those with visual impairment, because they cannot obtain the same information that sighted people do. I encourage everyone to conceptualize videos with people of all abilities in mind: provide enough dialogue and voiceovers for the message of the video to be obtained without visual stimuli, and add captions to your videos for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to consume it as well.
Always use inclusive language
At ETI, we often educate our participants, staff, volunteers, and audience against using the “charity narrative”—the framing of stories about people with disabilities as people to be saved, helped, pitied, or changed. When writing about a person with a disability, avoid talking about how “inspiring” he or she is, and avoid “tearjerker”-type stories. Remember, people with disabilities are like anyone else—they don’t exist simply to inspire everyone!
Sometimes, we use this language without even meaning to. For example, some volunteers report that they love working with ETI because they want to “help” the kids in our programs. We get what they mean—working with young people is definitely a rewarding experience, and we’re happy to have them as part of our ETI family! However, we encourage them to choose a more empowering way to phrase this, such as, “I enjoy working with kids and watching them unlock their own potential.” Also, use “person-centered” language—focus on the person instead of the disability, and avoid using an identity as a stand-in for a person or a group. One example is the phrase “people with disabilities” instead of “disabled people.” Even if your organization seldom talks about disability, it is helpful to reframe perspectives this way—it reminds us that everyone has something to contribute and that, though we might approach our daily activities differently, we all have the potential to impact our workplaces, schools, and communities.
Be aware of technological accessibility
Formats such as PowerPoint presentations and PDFs are a great way to present information, but they are not compatible with JAWS, a screen reader software that allows people with vision loss to use computers. Though PowerPoints, PDFs and even Word documents are industry standards for conveying information, alternative methods should be considered for people with disabilities.
For example, whenever I’m writing a blog post for ETI, I paste the text in an email to our CEO, who has visual impairment, instead of attaching it as a Word document. We also use WhatsApp to communicate because recording voice messages is easier for a person with visual impairment. These are not hard or inconvenient working methods—just ones that many people aren’t aware of.
When we all become aware of ways to make content more accessible, everybody wins—because everybody can learn from others’ ideas and contribute their own.
What are some other ways to make content more accessible for all? Let us know in the comments!
Julie Donovan is Director of External Relations at Empowerment Through Integration, a 501(c)3 nonprofit providing life skill and integrative educational programs to youth with visual impairment in Lebanon. She previously served as Communications Director for the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means, and received her Masters in Public Relations from Boston University’s College of Communication. She is passionate about developing targeted messaging and storytelling for mission-driven organizations, by using both new and traditional media.