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Podcast: What IC pros need to know about accessibility

Why is accessibility important for internal communicators?

What does it mean to have accessible internal communication channels?

What do we need to be mindful of?

In this episode of the Candid Comms podcast I cover:

  • What advice exists to help internal communicators learn about accessibility?
  • What do internal communicators need to think about when planning channels?
  • How to take practical action
  • The importance of knowing the accessibility needs of your employees.

As ever, you’ll leave with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about.

What does accessibility mean? To reach all your audience, you need to make effective use of accessible communication formats (also known as alternative formats). Source.

One of the many responsibilities we have as professional communicators is increasing access to communication.

This week I wrote a post on LinkedIn and published an article on the All Things IC blog about a free training course. I’ve been contacted by numerous Comms pros to say thank you for highlighting the training and to share their certificates. This is wonderful to see, thank you for tagging me and sharing the information with your own network. I’d love to know how you are now going to apply what you’ve learnt.

Further reading: Free training to help you learn about inclusive communication.

Text: What IC pros need to know about accessibility. Photo of Rachel Miller and Candid Comms text.

Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.

The episode is available to listen to now. You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify and Podbean. Or you can listen below.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Screenshot of the UK accessible communication formats web page

Transcript of this week’s episode

You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller. Join me every week for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication-related.

Hello, and welcome to the show. In today’s episode, we are going to be focusing on what you need to know about accessibility, and you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do, and one thing to think about. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

The topic of accessibility has been increasing in volume over the years and rightly so. It’s a super important one. And I thought it’ll be good to record this episode because I am on an absolute journey of trying to learn as much as I possibly can to make sure that communication is accessible not only for myself and for my business, but for my clients and the comms friends that I work with through All Things IC. So I thought I’d share some of that experience with you today.

When you think about accessible communications, I wonder what springs to mind. What does accessibility mean for you?

Now within the world of internal comms, you can interpret it in many different ways. So I just want to start by knowing what we mean when we talk about accessibility. According to the World Health Organisation, one in eight people have some form of disability. I first learned that stat from the Public Relations and Communications Association in 2021 when they published their accessibility guidelines, which are well worth checking out. I’ll include a link in the show notes to this episode, allthingsic.com/podcast.

Further reading: PRCA publishes new accessible guidelines

PRCA Accessible Communications Guidelines

But as part of the PRCA guidance, they highlighted this research from the World Health Organisation that estimates that 2 billion people will need at least one assistive communication memory or hearing aid in the next 10 years. Now that really resonates with me. I have my own form of disability in terms of a hearing loss, and it’s got increasingly worse over the years to the point where in June 2020, I was issued a hearing aid and it’s made the biggest difference for me, but it means that the way that I communicate has to be done in a certain way.

So when I’m watching television, for example, I have to have captions. I have to have subtitles on. I miss a lot of dialogue. I really, really struggle to pick up dialogue when I’m watching TV or a film. I struggle with podcasts when there’s no transcript. And that’s the reason why every single episode of the Candid Comms podcast, I pay to have it transcribed because I want to publish a transcript. So if you are listening to the episode and you miss something, for me, when I listen to a podcast, sometimes I have to rewind it because I haven’t caught the audio and I have to go back. And if I have to go back multiple times and I still can’t understand what the person is saying, I still can’t hear what they’re saying, then if there’s a transcript, oh my goodness, it makes a world of difference for me.

So I try to do that with Candid Comms. And that’s why I publish the transcript with each episode of this podcast. So those are just things that I do where I know in order to really be able to make the most of the hearing that I do have, I need to have things like captions turned on. I need to have things like reduced background noise, and that’s not always possible. There are organisations like the Royal National Institute for Deaf People who are brilliant at helping people understand the restrictions and limitations people have. I’ll share a link in the show notes, but they have a communication card that you can share. You can create your own one and then share it. And that’s within the niche of hard of hearing and deaf community. So I’ve done that. So I’ve done my own communication card, which shares what my accessibility needs are.

I need to have a reduced background noise. I need people to be facing me face on because I lip read constantly. And the pandemic has caused many people to not be able to communicate effectively, myself included, because when there’s lots of background noise and you rely on lip reading, if people are wearing masks, face masks that cover their mouths, it means I can’t hear. And therefore it means I can’t communicate even with a hearing aid because I can’t see their lips if it’s too noisy. So there’s things like that where you just make reasonable adjustments. You just need to know that in order for me to communicate well, I need for these things to be in place. And it’s not a biggie. It’s just the way that I work. It’s the way that I live. It’s the way that I need to communicate. And I’m aware of it.

And what I’ve started to do increasingly is to talk about it actually. And it takes courage to do that. I taught a Masterclass in person at the All Things IC hub, my beautiful training centre in West London here in the UK. And in December 2021, I invited a group of internal communicators in for a Strategic Internal Comms Masterclass, which I loved. It’s so good to be back face-to-face. I can’t even tell you.

And I said to them right at the start of the day when I did all the housekeeping and the fire exits and fire drills and all the sort of things that I need to share with them from a health and safety perspective. I also then shared the fact that I have hearing loss and I’m hard of hearing. I said, if I ask you to repeat a question, it won’t be because of how you’ve said it. It’ll be because I haven’t heard it.

All Things IC Inner Circle

And everyone is always really amenable to that, which is wonderful. So thank you to the people who were in that room, because you make that fine for me and not strained at all. And the more that I say that, the more that I get comfortable saying that and talking about it, the better. Debbie and I, who produce is this show. Hi, Debbie. I know you’re listening. We recorded an episode at the end of season one where we did behind the scenes of Candid Comms. And we talked about accessibility a little bit on that episode, and I was sharing what it’s like to create audio content as someone who really struggles to listen to audio content. Things like Clubhouse, for example, that is not accessible for me at all. I can’t listen to it because the content is not recorded. On the whole, Clubhouse is people dining in for live audio conversations with each other. People step up onto a virtual stage and they have their say, and then they step down again.

And I tried, Comms friends. I tried to join that platform, but because the quality of the audio isn’t great and it’s not guaranteed and you can’t pause it and it’s not recorded and I can’t go back to it, if I didn’t hear a conversation correctly because the person dining in had a crackly line or it was noisy, I missed it. And I found that I missed so much of the context of the conversations that actually it was just no good.

So then I completely disengaged from the platform and I can’t remember the last time I logged into it. It doesn’t feel accessible to me. Therefore, I’m not going to give it a go because it’s too frustrating, and it’s just not great experience for me. So if you think about that from an internal comms perspective, think about your channels. Something I want you to know is to be aware of advice and guidance that’s out there to support you.

So things like the PRCA diversity and accessibility guidelines are excellent because they look at different categories. They look at things like physical accessibility and people who have cognitive disabilities, who perhaps have eyesight-related disabilities. And it helps you think about how does my content need to be in order to be accessible? How do I make it accessible? So what I want us to focus on through this episode, and I’ll share with you the guidance that I highlighted on my blog back in 2021 from PRCA, because it’s well worth reading. And if you remember it coming out and if you read it, go back to it, look at it again afresh. Something I want you to do is to take practical action. So there’s lots of guidance out there. Another one I’m aware of is from the PR Council, which is prcouncil.net, and there’s advice and guidance on their website as well.

Photo shows a team day with All Things IC. Four people are sitting at a table in the office, surrounded by paper and workbooks. They are smiling.

There’s all sorts of accessibility standards that we could be aware of. And it’s how you integrate it day-to-day into your internal communication. So I was just saying there that Clubhouse isn’t for me. Imagine if I was in an organisation and that was the only internal comms channel. It was perhaps an all-hands call that everyone dialled into. That would never work for me if there was no transcript of what happened after the event that was published or a wrap-up story afterwards, if it was just literally, you have to be on the call, dial in and you’ll hear the leaders talk, but it wasn’t face-to-face in terms of not even on a video screen. Let me tell you, trying to lip read on a video screen where people’s faces are tiny, it’s not ideal, but you just go with it.

If it was a one-off thing where it was an all-hand, all employee meeting, leadership call, dial in, listen to it, and then the comms team didn’t do a follow-up, didn’t do any stories, if that audio was a really bad experience for me, I don’t think I’d keep on dialling in, in the same way that I haven’t dialled into Clubhouse. I haven’t accessed it. I don’t even think the app’s on my phone anymore. I would just disengage. If I was an employee inside an organisation and my accessibility needs had not been taken into a consideration, I wouldn’t be engaging with that channel. If that was the only channel that existed, then I just wouldn’t be present for the conversations and I would miss a heck of a lot. So we have a responsibility, comms friends, to really understand. I talk a lot about as professional communicators, it’s our business to know our business.

I wonder if you are close enough to really truly know the accessibility needs and requirements of your employees. As you’ve been listening to this episode or perhaps reading… If you are indeed reading the transcript, hello to you. If you’ve been listening and think, actually I don’t know what the accessibility needs are of our colleagues. We’ve never really asked them. Or maybe you have asked them.

Maybe it’s HR data somewhere. Have a conversation with your HR colleagues. Somebody in the organisation should have some kind of awareness of accessibility needs. And if you don’t, if there’s no data that exists, then I encourage you for 2022 to consider this, and beyond, to consider this in terms of what is the audience demographic makeup of the colleagues inside your organisation. So you might know how many frontline workers you’ve got. You might know how many people managers you’ve got, thought about the accessibility needs of your employees.

If you are aware of the particular needs people have, and particularly from areas like neurodiversity, for example, what changes could you make to your internal communication channels? What changes should you be doing? What changes should you think about? There’s all sorts of research out there. I’ll include some links in the show notes, allthingsic.com/podcast. But if you’ve never thought about how people process content, if you’ve never thought about there’s some standard things you can do, like making sure that when you are using images, you’re using alt text, alternative text. And the reason for doing that is because if people are using a screen reader, for example, they’re able to scan over a photograph and there will be a good description telling the screen reader what is in the image. And therefore when you have alt text turned on, it means that the screen reader can pick up and describe what the image is. So it makes it a better, richer experience for the person who’s trying to engage with that content, who’s trying to understand what the content is.

And there are other things like making sure you have transcripts and closed captions and subtitles on videos. In fact, I shared a video on Twitter in December 2021. And in fact, it was a clip. It was the promo for an episode of season three of the Candid Comms podcast. And as standard, I put captions on all my videos I Tweeted the video and then I noticed it had too lots of captions, and I was like, oh, what’s going on here? And Twitter in December 2021 have started rolling out as standard that they will caption videos, which is brilliant. Well done, Twitter. Long overdue. Well done. Great to see that. When people are watching videos… And I think isn’t there some kind of stat that says eight out of 10 videos that are watched online are watched without sound?

But presumably we really want people to understand what’s going on in the video, but if they’re watching without sound and actually there’s no subtitles or captions in place, then it makes that content really, really hard to understand and engage with. So adding captions is a really good thing to do. And also for videos, we should have the ability to toggle captions on or off. So all of my online masterclasses, for example, at allthingsic.thinkific.com, every single course has got captions on the videos and there’s the option to do the CC, the closed captions toggle. So you can toggle them on or off. Some people like them and some don’t. See, all of that is about accessibility.

All of that is understanding and thinking through what are the access requirements that people have. So something I do want you to do is to think about that for your organisation, look at your channels, look at your channels matrix. And you know there’s a whole podcast episode on that. I’ll include it in the show notes, but look at your channels matrix and look at your channels and think are they accessible?

When I said about that leadership call everyone dials into and then actually there’s no transcript available or wrap-up story afterwards, what did that make you think? Did you think, “Oh yeah. Great. Yeah. We’re on that. We already do that. Got that covered, Rachel. Don’t worry.”? Or did you think, “Oh yeah, actually I’ve never really considered. I’ve never thought about it from an accessibility point of view. It just feels like maybe it’s a bit more work.”? And yeah, it is, but actually it means that more of your employees can engage with that content. I keep saying, engage with that content. I’m using it in various forms today, but what I mean by that is they can interact with it, they can get involved, they can listen, they can catch up, they can watch, they can hear, et cetera.

So for your own organisation, do ask. If you ask your HR colleagues to share accessibility data with you if they’re able to, then how can you make informed decisions? How can you look at your channels matrix? And then go, actually, we’ve got quite high percentage of people who have learning difficulties or have disabilities when it comes to all sorts of things inside our organisation. So what’s the impact? Which of our channels, therefore, are not accessible for people? And what changes are we going to make as a result? And if you don’t have that sort of information in place, I would encourage you to do a story about that internally to say, we’re reviewing the way we communicate as an organisation. It’s important to us that all of our employees can interact and have access to the stories that we share and the content that we are writing. And ask people to get in touch with you.

An ideal scenario for me would be to do a call to action, where you say, “This matters. We want to make sure that we’re able to share great stories and great content and to hear your voices.” Remember, two way always, comms friends. We’re not communicating at or to, but for and with. So how can we make sure that we have really good robust systems and processes in place to encourage conversations in our organisation going from monologue to dialogue.

Do that as a call to action. Encourage people to get involved and say, “We want to know more about this. We want to understand what the access requirements are in side our organisation. Please help us shape this.” And then an ideal scenario for me is then that group of people can look at the channels and go, “Well, we need more on this or less on this. I need to tweak this, add captions here, do a summary here.” So then you can work really knowledgeably and really confidently knowing you are granting as much access as possible to your content for your people. Hopefully it’s a much better experience and a really enriching experience that doesn’t exclude anybody inside your organisation. We are going to take a short break. And when we come back, I’ll leave you one thing to think about. See you in a moment.

In the final part of today’s episode, I’m going to leave you with something to think about. Now I live in the UK and this advice is fairly UK-focused. However, I am certain that there will be equivalent organisations for you wherever you are in the globe. So bear with me while I share this with you, and then see if you can find a local one based in your area, your region, wherever you live.

There is an organisation called Communication Access UK. This is an initiative developed in partnership by charities and organisations who have a vision to improve the lives of people with communication difficulties. And it’s led by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. And that partnership includes all sorts of people, including Communication Matters, which is the UK chapter of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, that inspired this work in the UK. The Stroke Association, Headway, which is the brain association, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the National Network of Parent Carer Forums, the Business Disability Forum, Disability Rights UK, and the Makaton Charity.

Free training to help you learn about inclusive communication. Communication Access UK logo.

And together, this whole amazing group of charities and organisations have developed a Communication Access Symbol, which is a new disability access symbol that’s underpinned by a completely free training package and standards. And their aim is to help people analyse the way that they’re communicating. And so it’s been developed for organisations and individuals.

So I signed All Things IC up, my business, to this to help me understand more about accessibility. Anyone can sign up. And what it does, it then unlocks a complete training package for you. So if this episode has peaked your interest and you think, “I don’t really know enough about accessibility,” I encourage you to check this out. I’ll include all the links in the show notes.

Communication Access UK website and training.

But what happens is once you go through the training, you then receive certificates confirming you’ve completed the training, and organisations will receive accreditation as communication accessible, once they’ve committed to deliver training and adhere to the standards. And then you’ll be placed on a national directory if you’re here in the UK, and you can display the Communication Access Symbol.

Both the certificates and the accreditation are valid for 12 months and you’ll need to renew them annually. I think it’s absolutely amazing. And looking at the organisation and what they’re planning to do, they define communication difficulties about not simply the ability to speak, but the ability to hear and understand what is said to us. That’s how they define communication.

And they say, some people may find it hard to ask a question, name an object or ask for help, while others may have speech difficulties that make them difficult to understand. Others may have problems processing information and difficulties with reading and writing. Some may use communication devices and require time to create their message. Millions of people across the United Kingdom have communication difficulties, including both adults and children. So this amazing organisation exist to help organisations become communication accessible.

The access symbol that they’ve developed is underpinned by standards. So they’ve developed detailed guidance and a really easily accessible e-learning package. So I’ll include all the information about that in the show notes. That’s something I want you to think about in terms of how can you help your organisation communicate brilliantly? How can you equip yourself and empower yourself to learn about accessibility? And then how can you influence really positively inside your organisation so you’re able to maybe create communities inside your organisation and pathways to learning and access to content in ways that you maybe haven’t done before?

I talk a lot about internal communication is too important to be left down to one team, one department, one person. It’s everyone’s responsibility. However, sometimes it takes the internal communicator to make the first move.

If your organisation isn’t thinking about accessibility, I encourage you to do your homework and look into it because in my mind, the more access that we can grant to our people, the more opportunities we can have for two-way conversations and content from our frontline workers and our head office workers, that’s one level of accessibility, but going deeper is understanding how do we connect and communicate with our neurodiverse colleagues, with our people who have learning difficulties or maybe hearing impairment? How do we make sure as an organisation, we communicate in a really accessible way?

I would love to know how you get on? What are you doing already inside your organisation when it comes to accessibility? If you’ve got a great story to share, come and write for me, come and do a guest post on the All Things IC blog. If you’re an in-house internal communicator, get in touch at allthingsic.com/contact. Send me a note, let me know what you’re doing. And maybe you could see your story featured as a guest article on my blog. As ever, I would love to hear from you. You can tweet me, @AllthingsIC. Find me on Instagram, @rachelallthingsic. Look me up on LinkedIn, Rachel Miller. And remember, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 21 January 2022.

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