by Kate Harrison Whiteside
If there’s anything we can take into the future with us it’s the absolute need for achieving accessibility in communications. As our virtual communication reality continues to evolve, with it comes special challenges for everyone trying to deliver and receive clear messages. Here are some key links to sites with advice.
Opening the door to accessibility online
Always start with W3C’s (World Wide Web Consortium) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). It is the leading site on all web accessibility guidelines and standards. Their At-a-Glance section is your blueprint for starting an online initiative. It gives you a four-point strategy to follow. It advises providing alternative media, such as audio- or video-only versions, captions, pre-recorded sign language. But, like all great communications, whether virtual or in-person, getting to know your audience’s needs is the starting point.
Focus on inclusivity
A recent article on David Berman Communications’ website, “Accessible online meetings”, provides insights and tips on how to be inclusive during online meetings. This aspect of clear and accessible communication may create some nervousness and discomfort as we enter unfamiliar territory, on both sides of the table. The basic advice is simple: ask questions to clarify what is needed.
Carefully examining the words we use is a great place for meeting hosts to start. Avoid the terms like disabled or handicapped and acknowledge others as our participant who lives with their disability. Or say, we welcome Dr. Smith who uses a wheelchair, rather than is confined to their wheelchair. One word can make a world of difference. This is clarity with a dash of empathy and respect.
Introductions are a critical aspect of accessibility in meetings—virtual or face-to-face. Ensure to give participants the option to introduce themselves and be patient. Once the meeting begins, remember you may be interacting with a person:
Plain Language and accessibility
The field of plain language is moving quickly towards ISO recognition, further emphasizing the importance of audiences. Helping readers get the information they want, find, understand, and use it are the foundation of plain language. Always start with a clear picture of who you are communicating with and what they need.
Each disability community has its own way of communicating. For example, Deaf is spelled with a capital D. It includes people who are culturally deaf (born deaf) and medically deaf (hearing loss coming later in life). Remember also that hearing can be temporary or vary in its affect. Our own cultural experiences may have left us with a narrow view of hearing challenges that needs to be widened.
Feel free to ask for and offer help.
Be patient, speak clearly, and use familiar (plain) words. Do your research before communicating. Get to know your audience, and what you need to ensure your messages are received and understood. People are the key to communicating and it’s our job as the creators of messages to ensure there is a connection.
What can I do?
Gaining accessibility skills is more important than ever. Each of us can take steps acquire new ideas:
1.have an expert do a presentation to your team
2.ensure accessibility sessions are on your professional conference agendas
3.identify a person to be the key resource for your organization.
As writers and editors we often focus on words for each situation, but we also need to look at the human factor.
Let's stay connected.
Subscribe to our blog for Plain Language Academy news, tips and updates.