By Ross Linnett, Founder & CEO of Recite Me,
On 17 May 2018 it’s the seventh Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).
GAAD aims to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility and inclusion and people with different disabilities.
You are no doubt a PR or communications professional who shapes and influences the design and use of digital technology.
So your buy-in is crucial to help disabled people to be able to better access digital communications.
And while I believe you want to make your digital communications more accessible and usable for people with disabilities, you may not know where to start.
That’s why it’s so important to engage with GAAD 2018. There are numerous GAAD 2018 events across the UK, along with a mix of digital events you can access online.
I’ve also written this blog to give you clear actions to take in three key areas to help you make your digital communications more accessible for disabled people.
Why accessibility matters for PR and Communications
To start it’s worth considering why it’s so important for you to understand accessibility.
As a PR or communications professional you are responsible for your employer’s or client’s brand communications.
So you are a gate keeper in many ways and it’s vital you learn more about accessible communications, and practice it, for three main reasons.
Firstly, it’s a legal requirement. The Equality Act 2010 requires all organisations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and customers.
These reasonable adjustments include making your digital communications accessible to as many disabled people as possible.
Secondly, about one in five people in the UK have a disability, and most disabilities are acquired with age as we grow older.
This means our ageing population will result in more people with disabilities in future.
Thirdly, disabled people currently represent a huge market that is relatively ignored.
For example, the spending power of disabled people and their families in the UK is £249 billion (Source: DWP Family Resources Survey 2014/15).
But there’s plenty of evidence like The Click-Away Pound survey that shows that disabled people often face barriers (e.g. inaccessible websites) that prevent them from spending their money.
Quite simply, you can’t ignore disabled people and their access needs.
#1) Write content in plain English
Ten to 15 per cent of people around the world have a learning disability. Whilst in the UK one in ten people are dyslexic, according to the British Dyslexia association.
Impenetrable language is one of the major barriers stopping them from accessing your digital content.
It’s also worth noting that the average reading age of the UK population is nine years. This means people have reached the reading ability normally expected of a nine year old.
The harder your content is to read, the less accessible it is.
So keep it simple and use plain English to ensure your digital content can be read by as many people as possible, including people with disabilities.
The Plain English Society offers free guides you can use to help you write in plain English, like the How To Write in Plain English guide.
#2) Use Alt text tags for images
Using alt text tags (aka alt text or alt tags) for images is one of the most important aspects of digital accessibility.
Yet this is often overlooked and easy to fix.
People with low vision or no vision who are using a screen reader to access digital content (e.g. websites, apps, PDFs) depend on alt text labels being applied to images.
Alt text means they can access a text description of what the image is composed of, and thus understand the meaning being implied by an image in a piece of digital content.
Your design team or design agency can help you learn how to add alt text to all images. And you should also think about how to write alt text properly.
For example, you don’t need to say it’s an image (e.g. ‘Photo of…), but you should write a concise description of the image.
Also, the content of the alt-text will depend on the context of your content, so think about why you are using the image to help you write the alt text.
You should also use an alt text description (e.g. ALT: description) at the end of the body copy of every post you do on social media platforms.
#3) Add web accessibility software to your website
90 per cent of websites in the UK don’t meet the legal minimum accessibility requirements, according to national digital accessibility charity AbilityNet’s submission to the government’s Work & Pensions Select Committee’s Assistive Technology Inquiry.
But all websites, web content and other digital content (where applicable) should be designed to WCAG 2.0 Level AA as a minimum standard.
You should also add web accessibility software to your website – it’s cost-effective, easy and quick to add.
I’m the Founder and CEO of web accessibility software company Recite Me and I’m proud to be able to say we are a partner of the CIPR.
The Recite Me Accessibility and Language toolbar is available on the CIPR’s website and it lets visitors with a range of disabilities access the site in a format that suits them best.
For example, you can click on the Accessibility button at the top of the CIPR website, which opens the toolbar.
Once open it lets you do things like change the font size, colour and background colour contrast. You can also use the Recite Me toolbar to have the text read aloud to you.
These features are great for people with disabilities like dyslexia and low/no vision.
And you can also use the toolbar to translate the text into over 100 different languages.
There are of course other web accessibility solutions available, and whatever you do add one to your website if you know it’s not accessible.
What are you going to do for GAAD Day?
I hope you can do AT LEAST one thing in this blog to coincide with GAAD 2018.
And I’d love to know what you’re doing to make your digital communications more accessible for GAAD 2018.
Please tweet Recite Me (@reciteme) to let us know and and help us get as many people as possible talking about GAAD 2018 and accessibility.
Image courtesy of pixnio