Practical tips on accessible and inclusive communications
Making sure everyone can understand your message and stay connected
Disability can impact the way an individual acquires and understands information as well as how they communicate. As we navigate this current way of working, it is increasingly important that your organisation’s communications and messaging are accessible for all potential audiences.
Inclusive and accessible communication means ensuring that your messaging meets everyone’s communication needs and is designed so that all audience members understand the information you are sharing. This means that it is perceivable, understandable and communicated via an accessible medium, with any required adjustments in place, so that all team members can participate equitably and your employees with disability are not left behind.
When communicating key information consider the following:
- Will everyone be able to access and understand the information?
- What is the purpose of the communication?
- Can everyone participate equitably during a meeting or presentation?
- Does everyone have the technology they need to participate?
Using technology for inclusion
The current way of working has increased our use of technological platforms to remain connected with our employees, colleagues and teams. We have seen organisations shifting to using video-conferencing tools such as Skype, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams to support virtual meetings and video calls. Ensure that all employees are aware of the accessibility tools available within these applications to support people with disability. For example, Microsoft Teams supports Artificial Intelligence (AI)-delivered captioning; Microsoft PowerPoint provides Presentation Translator which allows the presenter to offer live subtitles which may benefit people who are deaf or hard of hearing; and Microsoft Office 365 suite supports the development of accessible documents and includes built-in screen reading technology for people who are blind or have low vision.
Key Learnings from AND’s Member Discussion Forum Series
“We’re still learning, and you will still be learning, so be flexible and ask your audience whether it’s working for them or not” –Shaun Adarkar, NSW Public Service Commission
Shaun Adarkar, NSW Public Service Commission, Leonie Jackson, Deaf Society of NSW, and Maree Norden, Bureau of Meteorology, shared their knowledge and experience at the third of AND’s Discussion Forums – ‘Practical tips on accessible and inclusive communications’. The session highlighted the importance of:
- Creating accessible documents and embedding accessibility from the ground up rather than trying to add it in later – NSW Public Service Commission has put together an information sheet with tips for developing accessible communications. Download information sheet with tips for developing accessible communications (Word, 102KB).
- Making sure that meetings are held in an accessible way – with virtual meetings becoming the norm it is important that you are asking what people need to participate equitably. This could be including live captioning and/or Auslan interpreting. Ai Media can assist with live captioning. If captioning is not available, Leonie Jackson encourages:
- Sharing a PowerPoint or Word document with key points prior to the meeting and a written summary after;
- Checking in with participants who are deaf or hard of hearing directly to make sure they have everything they need; and
- Ensuring that the presenter’s video is clear for lipreading and has clear audio (e.g. mute everyone who is not talking).
- There is also technology available (e.g. mini mic and FM systems) that can be plugged in for audio to reduce background noises for participants who are hard of hearing.
- Describing any visual information that you are presenting – as Shaun Adarkar advised “make sure that you are not excluding people by taking for granted that everybody can see what is being presented to them”.
- Avoiding platforms that require people to download additional software – it is also important that you pick a platform that is screen-reader friendly.
- Recognising that the increase in screen time may also impact on people’s energy levels and increase fatigue.
- Making staff aware of the accessibility functions available to them in the different platforms (e.g. live captioning in Microsoft Teams and Zoom). Maree Norden has provided a document with Accessibility tips (Word, 1MB).
- Seeking feedback from employees regarding accessibility issues and concerns – and then acting on this.
Practical tips for employers
- Establishing effective communication at work:
- Ask a person what their preferred method of communication is and if they require any adjustments to participate equitably at work and during meetings. Remember that a person’s experience of disability is as unique as their fingerprint – what might suit one person won’t necessarily be right for everyone.
- Ensure any adjustments are implemented before each meeting and check in regularly to see if the adjustments are working.
- Written communication:
- Create accessible documents and provide alternative formats of information (e.g. PDF, Word document, large print, plain English, Braille, audio).
- Check that documents are as free from jargon as possible and have been checked for accessibility and readability. Consider using Vision Australia’s Document Accessibility Toolbar and the Flesch Reading Ease function (both available in Microsoft Word).
- Provide both email and phone details in your email signature to support an individual’s communication needs or preference.
- Check the accessibility of digital information against Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 standard.
- Verbal communication:
- Introduce yourself before speaking in group meetings. When speaking to a group virtually, face the screen and speak at a typical pace. Make sure there is adequate lighting on your face as having the light behind you casts your face in shadow. Don’t use large hand gestures or obstruct your mouth with your hands while speaking. Repeat questions as necessary.
- Check you have understood correctly by paraphrasing back and let someone know if you do not understand.
- Provide trigger and content warnings when potentially distressing content is planned to be discussed (e.g. suicide).
- If an employee has been placed through a Disability Employment Service (DES) provider, ensure that the DES can continue to provide support for virtual meetings as needed.
Now more than ever, it is important that we ensure that our practices are inclusive and accessible so that people with disability can continue to be productive and connected team members.