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Accessible communications doesn’t have to be complicated

10 May 2022

As communications professionals, we know accessible communications is important. But much of the advice is long and complicated. It’s often shoved on the ‘too hard’ or ‘to look at later’ pile.

At Thomas Pocklington Trust, a charity which supports blind and partially sighted people, half of the team are visually impaired. These are intelligent, professional, independent people. But if information is not in a format that they can read, it is disabling! 

They do not regard themselves as disabled but inaccessible communications strips them of their independence.

And (if you will pardon the pun) it is short-sighted of charities not to be inclusive. There are more than two million people living with a visual impairment in the UK today. This is set to rise to 2.7 million by 2030. If these people are unable to read your communications, then you are potentially missing out on millions of potential donors to your cause.

Blind people don’t necessarily just support sight loss charities – they care about the environment, poverty and animals – just like the rest of us.

What you need to know

Visual impairment is a spectrum from low vision, through severely visually impaired, to being totally blind. Watch our video ‘What do we see?’ which simulates how the world looks through the eyes of people who have the six most common conditions in the UK today.

Blind people often use voice over software (a screen reader) to read websites or documents. They navigate through this using the headings. 

Partially sighted people may use magnification software or aids. Depending on how visually impaired the reader is, they might need the text so large that they can only see a few words at any time on the screen. Now imagine reading a 60-page report like this.

Our #BlindAndAble videos show the accessible technology blind and partially sighted people use to read and work on documents and social media in the workplace.

What you can do today

CharityComms’ excellent Accessible Communication resource breaks down into manageable chunks how you can make your comms more inclusive. 

I don’t want to repeat what is in this resource but share a few simple things that you could put in place today that would make a real difference to the lives of visually impaired people. 

Headings, headings, headings

I cannot stress enough how important headings are both within documents and your websites. Headings need to be in a logical structure – so one H1 heading for the title with H2 and H3 sub-headings depending on the content. This allows people using assistive technology to quickly find and get to what they are interested in reading.

Microsoft Word has a function called ‘Styles’ that you can set up to standardise your headings in a document that is recognised by screen readers. It is also brilliant for those who use magnification as they can use these headings to ‘minimise’ sections under the heading which makes it easier to scan longer documents.

Pesky pdfs

People often ‘print as a pdf’ rather than ‘save as a pdf’. If you do the latter – all formatting including the headings are carried over into the pdf and are accessible by screen readers. If you print it as a pdf you are effectively creating an image – this is not navigable by a screen reader.

Describe your images

Use alternative descriptions for images both in documents, your websites and on social media posts. Each platform is slightly different in where you add the description. You need to try to provide that same experience for visually impaired people who are reading your content.

Adding your keywords within the image alt descriptions on your website also helps with your SEO. Bonus!

Describe your links

Rather than ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ describe where the link takes you. Like, when I mentioned the Accessible Communication resource earlier. 

Videos

Put captions and a transcript on your videos for hearing impaired and deafblind people.

Business as usual

Embed these processes within your team so that they are simply part of how you work. 

What we are doing

At Thomas Pocklington Trust we are campaigning right now for accessible health information. Despite requesting to receive letters from doctors and hospitals on tests and appointments electronically, in braille or in large print, blind people are still being sent hard copy letters by post. They have to ask someone else to read this to them – if indeed they have someone to ask.

Imagine how that feels. Many blind and partially sighted people live alone and this has led to missed appointments and being removed from surgery waiting lists. Embedding some of the accessible communications tips above could really help the situation.

Accessible comms should not be an afterthought or a ‘nice to have’.  Just giving a little thought in advance to the structure of a document, for example, takes no more time but makes such a difference. 


Further reading:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is coming. If you have exciting plans we would love to hear them so get in touch @charitycomms.

Banner Image: Antoni Shkraba on Pexels

Penny Wilkinson

head of communications, Thomas Pocklington Trust

Penny is the head of communications at Thomas Pocklington Trust. She has worked in communications for more than 25 years with roles in the public, private and charity sectors.